Coming from Atmore, Alabama, I was accustomed to women hurting women more than helping. When I started teaching middle school, I only had two girlfriends who were open and honest with me. The other twenty or so women that I worked with were pretty much out for themselves or competitive. For instance, we were encouraged to take initiative and participate in activities like pep rallies and other assemblies. When I offered to participate, I was quickly told that I was not needed. Once I moved on to community college, I was asked to attend a training for a new program. I was introduced to an exciting and innovative program that the state was funding through grants to help adult education students. When I returned enthusiastically hoping that this program could be considered for our school, I was quickly turned down by the female dean who explained simply, “It is not done here.” Here we are three years later, finally catching up and implementing the program. Even my friends were not really helpful. I watched them drop like flies when I went through a divorce. When I started different business ventures, no friends supported them. I couldn’t even get friends to come to a party/fundraiser that I held. Sometimes these experiences made me try harder to be a good friend and make sure that I didn’t treat people this way. Unfortunately, more often than not, women have not helped me.
In my new business ventures, I’ve started looking for a new tribe. Luckily, Pensacola actually has a different mindset. Last Thursday, I attended the annual Powerful Women of the Gulf Coast conference. My wife encouraged me to go, and although I expected division, I went. From the second I walked in the door, I was glad that I did. I fought back tears of joy to see so many genuine women helping each other. The group was founded by a group of friends after Hurricane Ivan devastated the area. They got together and helped each other rebuild their businesses, and this lead them to build the group.
As I found my way to the ballroom, I was greeted by vendors and realized that the group had given them the opportunity to present their businesses to the attendees. I found a spot at a table near the front and was soon joined by others who shared their stories. One lady was in a similar place as me–finding a new place in business. Another was looking for ways to recruit clients to her counseling. Another woman joined us as a rep for her sales group. An accountant joined the table who was just there for the inspiration. All of the women were nice and forthcoming in their stories and enthusiasm for the group.
The day progressed in empowering speeches and presentations. I didn’t even realize it was nearing the end because I was so impressed with ALL of the presenters. At the end of the day, we participated in a networking exercise where we exchanged our business cards and pledged to stay in touch.
That night I cried as I explained all of this to Alisa. I cried tears of joy in finding a group of women who genuinely want to help other women in business and in life. I also cried tears of anger that I was just finding this group at 35.
What happens when we help others? Only good things. I vow to be even more conscious of helping others, especially women because we need it. It is not easy to be a woman in business or society. We need each other.