Women To Watch - Page 40 - Girls' network

Women To Watch
- Page 40
Girls' network
Women’s groups change with the times, but relationships never go out of style

By Brittany Britto, Photos by Amy Davis | The Baltimore Sun

When real estate agent Bev Smith began looking for a networking group around 12 years ago, the search was intimidating. Some groups had strict rules or were too exclusive — inviting only one woman of one profession per group — while others didn’t focus enough on building personal relationships.

Fellow professionals told Smith, now 57, about the Chesapeake Professional Women’s Network, one of the largest all-female networking groups in the area. There were seasoned entrepreneurs, consultants, mothers who were returning to the workforce, recent graduates and professionals who were transitioning from one job to another, Smith said. Years later, she’s the president of the 22-year-old network.

Like Smith, hundreds of women in the Baltimore area have joined all-female networking groups and attended their events with the aim of building relationships in a comfortable setting. Those groups and their functions have evolved over time — plenty of them form online, at least initially — but the fundamental purpose remains: “It’s tapping into each other’s base of knowledge to help,” Smith said.

Wendy Murphy, associate professor of management at Babson College and author of “Strategic Relationships at Work,” said groups centered on identity have come into fashion within the past 30 years because it’s easy to connect with like-minded individuals.

Faith Wachter, a social media marketing consultant and the president of the Business Women’s Network of Howard County, agreed, noting that “there’s a certain comfort level among women.”

For some women, co-ed networking can be intimidating. Murphy said some have been especially apprehensive about building professional relationships in the era of #MeToo, which has affected how people — women, especially — choose to socialize professionally.

Others have been hesitant to cold call, email or connect with others online, because “you don’t always know what the response is going to be, and it’s not always professional,” Wachter said, so they turn to women-only groups.

Networking today is far more strategic than it once was, according to Smith. Gone are the days when people merely traded business cards, collecting them in stacks on their desks. Today, networking is about making intentional, personal connections without spreading oneself thin, said Wachter, 50.

“It’s about active giving — How can I help you? How can you help me?” she said.

Local women professionals have also built robust networks online through social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and have used websites like Eventbrite to schedule events. While some groups are based exclusively online, others use it as a starting point or an extension of their in-person offerings — posting jobs, referrals and updates on members