Women in Business Invited to Connect
CLEARWATER – Women in business are joining forces in the greater Clearwater area, sharing their stories, experiences, ideas and advice. The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce has started the AchieveHERS women’s networking group that currently is open to women in the public.
“The AchieveHERS was founded because we did a survey and a remarkable number of business women in the Chamber saw the need for a women’s group that can really exchange ideas, inspire people and share stories of success,” said Trina Tenret, founder and chairwoman of AchieveHERS and vice president of ProVise Management Group. “… The number one thing that kept resonating was they wanted to learn from other business women’s successes but also the things that they’ve been through – the hardships, trials and things that come up in everyday business and how they solved those problems.”
Over the last four years, the chamber has been trying to find better ways to reach out to women business leaders, said Bob Clifford, president of the chamber.
“Obviously if you look at the statistical information that’s available, women are becoming much more prominent in the business world,” Clifford said. “… As we watch this shift in leadership change from the male dominated world of CEOs and presidents, I think it was a clear signal that we needed to provide some type of program that would assist the existing female business leaders as well as create an opportunity for the aspiring young women in business to be able to experience the types of opportunities that are out there for women in business.”
Clifford added that there are a number of women in the Tampa Bay area at the helm of major companies as well as leading companies that are traditionally male-dominated businesses, such as construction companies and engineering firms.
Before starting the group, Tenret interviewed many women business leaders from Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa to find out what they wanted to get out of a women’s group.
“What I found was a remarkable number of personal stories that women still want to connect to each other and learn from each other,” Tenret said.
For example, Tenret said she talked to chief executive officer who is about to retire from a foundation and she allegedly wanted someone who she could pick up the phone and call in the middle of the night with a business problem. Just a network of strong, women mentors. Tenret said she wants that, too.
“All of my mentors throughout both of my careers, both as a TV news reporter for 12 years and as a financial planner, they have all been men,” Tenret said. “And it’s thanks to them that I am where I am today. On the other hand, now, especially in this male dominated industry (of financial planning,) I see more and more female clients saying, ‘I want to work with a woman.’ ‘It really helps to work with a woman.’ So I think that businesswomen are telling us that they really want to learn from the struggles that other women have been through.”
These issues could be anything from pay to the work/life balance, she said. Karla Jo Helms, CEO of JoTo PR and the PR chairwoman of AchieveHERS, added that breaking through the glass ceiling is a top concern for women she has talked to. Clifford said he knows the glass ceilings are still out there and need to be addressed, and he thinks a good step is to join forces and ideas in AchieveHERS.
Helms did a market research study on the demographics of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the women in it to find out more of their desires and needs. Her findings echoed many of the things that Tenret found.
“We found out that women wanted a forum for women to share their experiences in business,” Helms said. “What we run up against, how we solve certain problems, and sharing these stories in the same industry and in other industries to see how we can apply it to our own industry.”
Helms said that women and their experiences and concerns in business are finally getting more noticed, and this group can help come up with actual, applicable solutions to some of the problems women face. Women have a significant presence in business – for instance, in small businesses, women are the biggest hiring force second to public companies, she said. She hopes that the group can help create initiatives that women can start to implement in their businesses and establish programs or activities that help women become developed in business and contribute more to the economy while still being able to balance raising a family.
Clifford recognizes that women still face challenges in the workforce.
“I think there is concern out there about acceptance,” Clifford said. “In certain segments of the business community, there is still some skepticism of women being able to lead. I think that is shortsighted. Here at the chamber, our team here is predominantly female. They do an absolutely spectacular job in what they do, and we want to be able to give them opportunities beyond what they may currently be doing. They may have aspirations to lead, and we want to be able to afford them an opportunity to do that.”
Helms stressed that the group is open to all women in all levels of business, not just those who have reached the top. Tenret said she has already heard from women in all levels of business who want to join, and she welcomes everyone in the area to get involved.
“If you look at the membership of the group, there are phenomenally powerful women who have started their own business or took extremely courageous leaps of faith in traditionally male-dominated fields,” Tenret said. “For instance, Doreen DiPolitio has an extremely successful construction company. Carol Hagg led a law firm and started doing that way back when law firms were almost completely male. Going down the list, Barbara McCarthy owns one of the most successful companies with multiple branches – Sun Country Cleaners. And she and her sister started that from zilch. Now you have a Sun Country Cleaners on every block.”
Tenret recently spoke with a woman who just interviewed at a well-known law firm, and every partner there was male.
“I think there are these extremely successful entrepreneurs who have blazed a trail, and yet there are still others who are still coming up and saying, ‘Where are all the women around me?’” Tenret said.
There are many strong leaders in business now, but Tenret said it is also important to nurture the future generation of women leaders as well.
Right now, membership to AchieveHERS is free, Tenret said, and one does not need to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce to participate. The group will coordinate speakers to come in and talk on various topics, and there will be various events, she said. People are invited to “like” the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/
achievehers and find them on LinkedIn. For more information, contact Tenret at 441-9022, ext. 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.