By Douglas J. Guth | Photo by Thomas Skernivitz
These strong words come from former secretary of state Madeline Albright and were adopted by Sheryl Sandburg, author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Suzanne Carle, president and founder of the women-centric networking group WIN Cleveland, does not necessarily subscribe to this take-no-prisoners-stance, but she does appreciate the gentler message nestled within.
WIN Cleveland was established in 1998 with the goal of connecting female professionals to new clients and business opportunities. This mission is accomplished through the sharing of resources and ideas, while also assisting select women-based charities in the Cleveland area.
The average WIN Cleveland member is in her 40s or 50s. All participants are company owners or individuals attempting to grow their client lists.
“We started up as a safe place for women to network,” Carle, president of Suite Spot, a business development firm, says. “These are women re-entering the workforce for the first time in many years.”
The organization presents four yearly networking sessions, including a holiday party in December. There are also eight educational sessions, covering such topics as optimization of online marketing and maximizing your professional brand. Members learn the latest trends in creating the best startup plan and hone their skills in the ever-changing art of sealing a business deal.
A newer focus has been bringing in female business leaders to share the secrets of their success. A recent guest was Dr. Gisele Robinson Green, chief medical officer for The Sisters of Charity Health System. The Cleveland Heights resident, who practices internal medicine and geriatrics while helping take care of her six children, is a shining example of a seasoned female professional whose self-confidence and leadership can inspire others getting back into the business world.
“Dr. Green’s a regular person, raising a family and acting as an effective leader in the region,” Carle says. “Our members can relate to what she’s been through.”
In general, WIN Cleveland wants participants to be assertive without being aggressive, carrying an honesty and integrity even in a fast-paced global business environment. The group has up to 90 members, a number that fluctuates throughout the year, holding its meetings at Valenti’s Restaurant in Beachwood.
Any woman from Northeast Ohio is eligible to join. Current members derive from finance, medicine, marketing, nutrition, home improvement, and other industries. The group has an entrepreneurial bent, counting among its affiliates the owner of a Mentor-based embroidery and screen-printing enterprise, a financial planner with a downtown financial management business, a home-based skin consultant, and a woman-owned restoration organization.
Business is built on relationships, meaning WIN Cleveland makes sure to link with a diverse stable of charities and community partners that have a similar objective of aiding women in need. The Renee Jones Empowerment Center, for example, is a nonprofit that improves the quality of life for women facing poverty, domestic abuse and homelessness.
Considering its core mission, WIN Cleveland has evolved alongside its members, Carle says. She has met women from post-divorce situations who were able to build businesses and client bases practically from scratch.
“This is a place where women can ask questions about business without feeling foolish,” Carle says. “They have a chance to talk to women in the same position.”
Honesty brings an openness that is unique among other women’s business groups, where the only social interaction is the exchange of business cards, the organization founder says. Not only are WIN Cleveland members learning from each other, they’re making the connections that will further bolster their respective ventures.
“There’s a great many connections that happen right at meetings,” Carle says. “People go to each other first for one another’s services because that trust has been built.”
Carle is planning to further develop the group through additional meetings and educational sessions. Helping more women achieve great things is satisfying, doubly so when you have been down the same path yourself.
“I love the self-confidence and success that is breeding among our members,” Carle says. “To watch this growth occur with these women is an honor.”
For more information: wincleveland.org