By Michele Curry, Commerce Bank, Women’s Network Chair
2020 was certainly a hard year for all of us, and we’ve all witnessed the incredible impact the pandemic has had on our local businesses. Our members and members of the Chamber have had to make hard decisions regarding their involvement, and we completely understand that priorities have shifted. The Women’s Network initially saw a 25% decrease in our membership numbers and are starting to rebuild.
From the very start of the stay-at-home orders, the Women’s Network quickly went to work shifting our programming to virtual. We were agile and adopted Zoom to continue our regularly scheduled programming, and in lieu of in-person catered lunches, we proudly supported local restaurants by purchasing gift cards for all of our virtual attendees to accompany their registration.
Overall, we’ve seen around a 60-70% decrease in member engagement, and as such our committee leaders have been creative to try and provide our members opportunities that are more accessible and aligned with what they need from us as a Network right now. We understand that networking in a stay-at-home world is difficult, and we look forward to being again together soon for the aspect of the Network our members find the most value from. We began offering our Monthly Program as a hybrid event in January of 2021, and we’ve already seen attendance rise 80% since early pandemic programs, but still 40% below pre-COVID programming. We know as more people get vaccinated and more comfortable with in-person events that our in-person numbers will continue to rise throughout the rest of the fiscal year into our next program year. The committee leaders are committed to taking what we’ve learned about members’ most valued priorities to be creative in programming to come, including a balance between networking and professional development, a dedication to mentorship, transparency and accessibility to leadership opportunities with the Network.
That being said, I have an announcement to make regarding the leadership structure at the Women’s Network: in our previous years as a Network, we had our Committee Co-Chairs, two for each committee, that would lead the operations of our Network committees like Marketing, Membership Development, Special Events, and so on. We also had the Steering Committee for the Network, which served as a governing board and advisory group that would guide the strategic efforts of the Network. In total, Co-Chairs and Steering consisted of upwards of 30 leaders.
We recognized that the separation between Women’s Network’s operating arm and governing arm was slowing down progress and leaving some members burnt out and others simultaneously disengaged. Beginning in the 2021-2022 fiscal year (July), we will be combining our group of leaders into one cohesive group we are calling Women’s Network Leadership. Every leader has a voice and a vote; ever leader pitches in to help. We are confident that this model will reduce redundancy and allow decisions to be made at a faster pace.
Because we are condensing from two leadership groups to one, all spots on the 2021-2022 Leadership Team have been filled by existing members who are finishing out their term. We regret that this means we will not be able to bring new members on to the Leadership Team in 2021, however if you are interested in submitting a letter of interest for the position of Chair-Elect or Treasurer, those nominations are open to our entire membership and will be voted on in May. Please send your letter of interest to Caitlin Ferguson, our Women’s Network Director.
But don’t despair if you want to get involved more now that the quarantine is ending! The best way to start a deeper involvement in the Women’s Network is by visiting a committee meeting. There are no strings attached as you dip your toes in to see what the various committees do, and I know each and every committee is happy to tell you all about what projects they’re working on at any point during the year. There is no bad time to pop in, so I challenge you to be BOLD and give a committee a try! More information about the Women’s Network Committees can be found online at womensnetworkcomo.com/leadership.
2020 was a hard year, but I can’t think of a better example of what being BOLD feels like. We were thrust into a situation of massive change and we weren’t given a roadmap. I’m so proud of each and every one of you for having navigated yourself to where you are today. Take a moment to think of how much you’ve grown, and what it felt like to get here. Uncomfortable. Stressful. Accomplished. Powerful. You’ve proven that you can do ANYTHING and make it out the other side tougher than before whether you wanted it or not.
Be BOLD, grow through fear, and don’t let anything stand in your way.