Why did you start GGN?
In November 2013 during a Social Venture Partners event in Dallas, I found myself trying to introduce women I knew to other women they would benefit from knowing. I was running around trying to keep up and realized it was impossible! Just too many women! So I said to my friend, Susan Hoff, a Senior VP of United Way Dallas and a Partner with me in Social Venture Partners Dallas, that we needed to start a Great Girls Network to enable this cross-section of women from non-profits to businesses to get to know each other. She agreed!
We set the first gathering for February 25, 2014 and spread the word through email. 30 women showed up—and we launched.
What was your original vision for the group?
At the moment I spoke to Susan, I saw a vision of 1,000 women gathered in a large space all walking around, talking to people they resonated with. I knew there were at least 1,000 women in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who would benefit from knowing each other—so it seemed really possible! I wasn’t clear yet about what it could lead to. I just knew that women needed help in meeting and connecting with each other. I had a sense of trust that we would learn the value of it as we went along.
What has your vision grown into?
It became clear to me that the first thing women enjoyed was having a way to meet each other. From that, we realized that they wanted more substance to keep coming. We designed it to be two gatherings a year, early spring and fall. The numbers kept growing and our 6th one had 100 women paid to attend, even though only around 80 actually showed up—which is more than double the first attendance.
Questions were surfacing that made it apparent women wanted more—a way to stay connected, a way to learn, a way to grow. It was also evident that even though many had their own personal and professional networks, we could enhance them. We could also guide young women in how to build a network, and assist women in taking greater advantage of what was actually available to them. From these gatherings, we realized that women are yearning for ways to reach beyond their comfort zones, learn how to ask for help, build relationships, help each other. We want to break old patterns of competition between women, help them learn that by supporting each other, by helping each other, through mentoring, education and shared experiences, we can all benefit from the greater contributions women can offer the world.
Isn’t the term “Networking” overused and somewhat superficial?
There are many opportunities to superficially network today. Go to a meeting, conference or gathering and pass out business cards and hope someone remembers you. The kind of network we are building is different. In my life as an entrepreneur, I know I would not be where I am today without a panel of experts, friends and supporters giving me feedback, advice and referrals. It took me years to build that network, and there is nothing superficial about it. When you look at the statistics, the number of women owned businesses is minuscule compared to the number of male owned and/or operated organizations. It became evident to me that building a valuable, productive network is one of the most important keys to success. I believe the same applies whether you are running a business, working as an employee, building a non-profit or growing a family. Women from all walks of life benefit from a supportive, collaborative network.
Why did you use the term Girls instead of Women?
I began working in 1967. I’m still working 50 years later. I have no doubt that the Good Ole Boys Network is alive and well today, as it has been for centuries. For some reason, men seem to be able to even dislike each other but still ask for something.
Women don’t do that as easily. So, in a way, it is to be the antitheses of the Good Ole Boys thing. But it actually goes deeper than that.
The powerful woman in me is pretty capable of taking care of business and getting what I need. The girl in me still hides out sometimes. I am an accomplished business woman and coach, however, there are moments when I find myself making up a story that others won’t be willing to help me, that they’re too busy, that I’m not somehow valuable enough in the world to have what I want. I don’t think that part of me is bad, she just needs more encouragement.
I still feel like dancing when I hear Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” on the radio. Why can’t working, raising a family, being a responsible member of a community be fun? Why does it have to be hard to be a woman? Why does everyone else’s life look so much easier than the one we’re living?
I think we could all spend less time comparing ourselves to others and instead enjoying the blessings that are available all around us—if only we will wake up and really ask for what we want. And expect to get it!
Is this organization Dallas/FW focused or national in scope? Online communities or local chapters?
We see the GGN concept as one that can spread throughout the world, but we realized that we need to have piloted it locally and created our own presence before we try to expand anything.
With our website, we believe that other women will catch on to this and start wanting to create chapters in their areas. Once we get going, I think this will spread rapidly. We already have almost 600 women in our email list in July 2017, which is pretty great!
My vision is that we will grow this organically, meeting needs as they arise and giving women a chance to creatively contribute to the growth, and be compensated for it.
What are some programs you are offering through GGN?
So far, we have held eight large gatherings in D/FW since February 2014. In May, 2017 we added small group meetings (see Programs to learn about our Track Meetings). We are looking forward to creating workshops and community exchanges though the web and face to face, developing a national directory of women who are willing to be identified as part of the GGN, who offer services to people and want to let people know what they are and how they can benefit other GGN members. Our focus is to enable women to build and use networks that really mean something, which also entails learning how to believe in themselves, feel confident of their own value, so they can fully participate with others on a fair exchange basis.
What do you get for becoming a member?
We decided to ask the women on our current email list if they would be willing to pay $50 per year to be a member of GGN—and 97% said yes! We started charging that for membership in April our membership is growing each week. After joining, they are eligible to attend our Track Meetings and future workshops. Our Semi-Annual Gatherings are not limited to members, however, our Track Meetings are. This enables them to build ongoing relationships and count on confidentiality within the meetings. At the end of 2017 we have grown to 120 members. And we look forward to continuing to grow in 2018!