By Rachael Romig, Executive Director of Events & Special Programs
So much has been accomplished since 2011 when Women2Women was founded. Can you believe we have hosted more 152 speakers presenting at 130 events, and that doesn’t include the social events where there IS no speaker?
We have celebrated 36 ATHENA recipients as well as six De Mujer a Mujer award recipients! Last year, was the first De Mujer a Mujer Awards Ceremony, which recognizes women across diverse backgrounds in three categories – Small Business Owner, Community Impact and Young Latina. We felt it was a perfect accompaniment to the ATHENA ceremony and can’t wait to see its continuing growth over the next 10 years.
Our 10 Year Anniversary theme, “Be An Ally” brings what we are doing internally at Women2Women to the public. We, as a Council, and all volunteer committees, want to truly represent the women we see in our audiences and in our community. And we want to understand the things that make us different. We want and need to educate ourselves to create a more inclusive space right here at Women2Women through engagement, inclusion and integration.
Engage: Find new ways to reach a wider audience, including organizations and groups of people who are sometimes underrepresented. We also are better engaging the women of Women2Women who came before us, the ones who got us here. They are our Legacy Leaders.
Inclusion: Inclusion and engagement tied together and were our biggest goals. We not only want to engage with new groups, organizations and people, but also ensure they FEEL and KNOW they are included. While COVID-19 threw us into a bit of a whirlwind for the past seven months, we are back on track, and have begun working with partner organizations internally as a Council to learn what they do, what is important to them, and how they impact not only the community, but also the PEOPLE in our community. As a Council, we are educating ourselves so we can project that outwards and create an inclusive space.
Integration: We have many volunteer committees for Women2Women, and we noticed that these committees were having the exact same conversations at different tables. Integrating our volunteer committees, including our De Mujer a Mujer committee, into one, has given us the chance to learn from one another and have the hard (and easy) conversations TOGETHER, and learn from one another. It has been eye-opening and amazing to hear from so many diverse perspectives.
10 years later: Thoughts from our founders
Quick snapshot: Today, the founders of Women2Women continue to serve and lead in the community in areas of hospitality, media, banking, business, and healthcare, just to name a few!
We asked the original founders of Women2Women about its mission, how it has served the women of Berks County in the last decade, and how it can move forward in the next. Three messages rose to the top: Mission. Inclusion. Mentorship.
Retired Senior VP of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, Karen Marsdale, gave us a little peek behind the curtain of the original idea and launch of Women2Women
“Having worked for the Chamber for more than a dozen years, I saw the reality – that there were very few top-tier women business and industry leaders in our midst. We needed to create support for the cause, which usually means financial commitment and buy-in from leadership. Thankfully, our CEO, Ellen Horan, was willing to trust my judgment based on my successes in the past. She let me pursue this dream. We had our research, why women leaders are so necessary in communities, both for profit and nonprofit entities, and why it is important to create change. I researched, gathered women together, did my homework and somehow knew this was ground-breaking. We worked tirelessly at working sponsorships, getting buy-in from the community, all while planning great programming for an entire year. I honestly believe if we had not focused on both the broader community of women at large (not just Chamber members), embraced a very strong mission, if our programming from the beginning had not been relevant to the times, and we weren’t pushing the envelope a bit with the model, we would not have made the immediate impact that indeed we did,” Marsdale said.
Indeed, that mission has stood the test of time. As Paula Barron, Senior VP Retail Banking for Tompkins Vist Bank, said, “I am happy to see that since its launch 10 years ago, W2W has stood true to its mission to create more women leaders in Berks County. Rachael Romig and the advisory team continues to provide relevant topics and opportunities for women to grow in their careers and their personal lives.”
Connie Skipper looks back at one of their first meetings and said, “I fondly recall our beginning W2W steering committee meetings as the founders dreamed about what W2W could be. Could we bring all women together regardless of background for a common purpose? Could we elevate all women to be the best they can be? Could we instill in all women the confidence to know that they are leaders and have the ability to lead? Could we grow the W2W network membership to 200, 500, 1000? Little did we know W2W would grow to 5,000-plus members and make such an indelible mark on our community. There is no doubt the most notable outcome of the W2W network is providing incredible opportunities for women from diverse backgrounds to learn, grow and celebrate life together!”
Consultant Robin Costenbader-Jacobson notes that as a result of Women2Women, Berks County has seen “[m]ore authentically strong female role models. Mentors and sponsors are emerging for young women and men to emulate and learn from.” And while there remains work to do, she says: “More and more women are ‘bringing each other along.’ The glass ceiling has not yet shattered, but it has splintered and cracked.”
Paula Barret shares that she has seen more connectedness among women in Berks County since the founding of Women2Women.
“This initiative has provided a forum for women to meet and expand their networks. We have had women from ALL backgrounds, ages, ethnicity, etc. participate. I believe this inclusiveness has provided a richer experience for our members. I see women advancing in their careers or developing relationships for the non-working women. I believe the programming has provided some much-needed training and the resources provided have helped women develop and grow,” Barret said.
“Diversity, inclusion and belonging have certainly taken on new meaning over the past few months, and I do believe W2W has been on the forefront of welcoming ALL women to participate in education, events and mentoring opportunities,” Barron said.
Costenbader-Jacobson recalls that “[t]here were women 10 years ago in Greater Reading who said, ‘Women2Women was not necessary. The workplace has changed.’” And yet, in 2020, there is still disparity in pay and racial and gender bias is still a challenge in the workplace. Non-inclusive workplaces are still a reality, and Costenbader-Jacobson notes, “Our ability to lead is too often undermined by gender stereotypes.”
It seems Women2Women has proven it was not only necessary 10 years ago, but also its relevance and importance has only grown.
Wells Fargo’s Associate VP – Investment Officer, Regina Rinehimer points out that in this new age all initiatives of Women2Women are still seeing broad reach in the community.
“The current state of event planning due to the Covid-19 virus has changed the way W2W delivers to the community but it has not halted the message shared by programs and virtual events one single time. One of the most evident changes that W2W has promoted from the beginning is bringing women from very different backgrounds together. Working on diversity and social bias issues well before a daily news report. We have learned to understand, promote and be proud of others. We are the backbone for spirit of growth and professional skillsets that have made a great impression in the local community. Many stories have been shared as women have shared their success with W2W. The next decade of W2W will be lifted to higher levels [as we] [s]tay true to the Mission which is the development of women leaders while promoting inclusivity at every level,” said Rinehimer.
Donna Lamp agrees. “Women2Women’s mission and vision have pioneered the connection of so many women in our community! As Women2Women evolved, it became apparent that there was an enormous amount of untapped talent, expertise, and resources among women right here in our own community! Every one of us has a story to share and it was our goal to establish more women leaders who promote and support each other both personally and professionally. The W2W’s program growth and increasing community awareness now provides an ongoing opportunity for education, networking, and professional growth.”
And being asked what changes (for the better) you have seen, and what challenges would you like to see addressed for women in Berks, Richards responded, “Broader outreach and showcasing women from all areas and industry – not just business fields. [And a] focus on growing and enhancing offering to minorities [to] make sure we are driving inclusivity and equality and trying to bring all of our groups together to interact more broadly.”
Marsdale was cited by many co-founders as a true mentor to them and others in the Berks County community. Carolyn Spano, Director of Development at Bethany Children’s Home said of Karen, “I am so grateful that she took me under her wing when I worked at the Chamber of Commerce. Her leadership and example have helped me grow into who I am today.”
While Lamp credits “Robin Costenbader Jacobson for advocating for the inclusion of Healthcare representation as a contribution to W2W.”
Costenbader-Jacobson credits mentors including Courtney McKay Stevens – “All Behavior Has Meaning” and Judge Linda Ludgate – “Never Give Up Your Power.”
“I’m so fortunate to have been mentored by SO MANY beautifully strong and intelligent women. Two in particular instilled in me the qualities that helped me be the best version of myself,” Skipper shared. “From my mother, Dollie Bossler who served in WWII, raised 4 children and who at age 99 continues to care for her disabled son I’ve learned kindness, patience, resiliency, determination and the art of loving unconditionally. My professional mentor, Dr. Nancy Allmon, former Superintendent of Fleetwood Area School District and former Executive Director of Berks County Intermediate Unit, taught me valuable lessons on leadership, building teams, integrity, selflessness and always, always doing what is in the best interest of students. I am so blessed to have both women in my life!”
Additionally, paying it forward with mentorship is important to all our founders. Costenbader-Jacobson said, “I hope I have assisted in making a difference for young women and men through my life’s work teaching students and coaching women. Most of all I am hopeful I mentored my daughter well in education and in career success, and I have big dreams for my granddaughter as well!”
Marybeth Smialek has also been paying it forward.
“I have actually worked with my current mentee for 3+ years. She moved out of the Contact Center a year and a half ago, I got her back to school, and she will be getting her bachelor’s degree in May 2021!! It has been such a great relationship and so fulfilling to see her grow and expand her knowledge and skills. All in all, I guess I am trying to say that my passion, involvement and belief in mentorship has only gotten stronger and I am thrilled that Women2Women started me on this path and helped me find an area that I have transferrable skills that can help others,” Smailek said.
“Much more will happen as W2W evolves in this next decade!” said Marsdale.
We couldn’t agree more. Here’s to the next decade of Women2Women!