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YP NETWORKING GROUP PROVIDES LOCAL MINORITY WOMEN WITH PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

BY HOLLY HAMMERSMITH | PHOTO BY MCKINLEY WILEY

As they worked on accelerating their own careers, Lauren Welch and Jazmin Long both saw an unmet need in the Cleveland networking community.

“We both had a heart for women in the community so we connected,” Welch says. “We had a mutual love and admiration for women of color. We thought… to gather the minds in Cleveland, that would be beneficial for everyone.”

After meeting through a common contact, it didn’t take long for the two women to brainstorm an idea to solve that need. The Cleveland Young Professional Minority Women’s Group was born in 2014. Today this still somewhat new networking group is at 112 members and growing.

The group operates as a nonprofit under fiscal sponsorship of the Cleveland Leadership Center. Daily, women are finding the CYPMWG website and signing up to receive updates, Long says.

CYPMWG strives to position women of color as assets within the community. In many instances, these young women may find themselves as the only or one of a few minority women in their workplace, Long says.

“We experience things that other women do not experience in the workplace (from stereotyping to questioning of one’s credibility),” Welch says. “You don’t always have mentors in your job that can lead and guide you as a woman of color, so it’s important for us to connect those women.”

While anyone is welcome to participate in the organization the group aims to “provide a safe space” for minority women, according to Long. Members of the group are typically females of color ages 21 to 32. The group welcomes corporate sponsors of all types. Their contributions help pay for programming. Current organization partners include YWCA Greater Cleveland and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland – both of which also help refer young minority women to the group.

Group membership is a minimal investment at $30 per year. Professional development events put on by CYPMWG are provided free of cost in partnership with group sponsors. Social events typically include an event fee, and those fees are broken down with a discount for members versus non-members. Members also receive discounts on private events such as “Manicures and Mocktails,” an evening of pampering and conversation.

Women in the CYPMWG work in all industries, from law to the nonprofit sector, to healthcare and real estate. New members are additionally recruited via the group’s website, through social media marketing and through good old-fashioned networking.

“We have found there are a lot of companies in this city that need to recruit more minority women. We are the only organization that has a database of women of color,” Welch says. Many companies reach out to CYPMWG when recruiting for new positions to take advantage of this database.

Welch and Long say they are discussing creating an “associate membership” class, which would allow women of color who are more seasoned in their careers to become members as well.

In addition to addressing special circumstances minority women may encounter as working professionals, the group focuses on providing information on networking, mentorship, and making lasting female connections, Long says.

“We provide a lot of information around what networking is, how to network, and how to find someone that is a perfect fit to be mentor,” she says. Mentors are not assigned through CYPMWG, rather they form organically through relationships in the group.

“Women of Excellence” is a signature professional development event put on by CYPMWG and provides an opportunity for mid-level professionals to connect with a younger demographic, and potentially help form those relationships. Last year the event took place in June and included icebreakers, two presentations, food and drink and plenty of networking time, Long says.

Another popular event is “Ladies Love Brunch,” an event where women are encouraged to talk about personal and workplace challenges they have encountered and how they have overcome them.

“We really understand the importance of having a work life balance. In order to succeed professionally you have to take care of yourself,” Welch says. “It’s really an opportunity for women in their careers to come in and really just talk about what is happening in their life – what challenges have they had, what challenges have they overcome, goals they have to set. We make it clear that what is said in the room stays in the room.”

General body meetings offer a similar level of privacy and usually take place at YWCA Greater Cleveland. Past topics have included financial wellness, physical fitness, yoga and meditation, sexual wellness and vision planning. Most other group events take place across the city at various locations and venues – all meant to showcase Cleveland and its many neighborhoods.

“We really try to incorporate Cleveland as much as we can,” Welch, a boomerang who now lives in Ohio City, says. “It’s important that we sell into Cleveland as much as Cleveland has sold into us.

For more information: cleypmwg.com

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