So many women tell similar stories. Women with good ideas that never got funded. Women reaching the glass ceiling at their workplace, unsure where to turn.
At the vast majority of networking events, Shawn Ramsey—who ran a marketing and PR agency in Raleigh for 13 years—was one of a handful of women. She knew this needed to change, but she didn’t know the perfect recipe to change it herself.
Working in HR for 25 years, Jennifer Neilson likewise realized she was a woman in a man’s world. She longed for a network of women to help her find her voice but she never felt she had time, working 70- to 80-hour weeks.
Last year, both women heard about an interest meeting for UPWARD, a global network with the goal of accelerating the advancement of executive women through programming that supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They decided to give it a shot.
Once there, Ramsey, Nielson and several others saw the potential to change the landscape of the Triangle’s opportunities for women by establishing a local UPWARD chapter. The kickoff meeting is on Wednesday, April 27, from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Loading Dock in Raleigh. (You can register for the free event here.)
“RTP is still very much a ‘good old boys’ network,” Ramsey said. “We’ve seen glimpses of promise in the past and small changes along the way. But if you think about the number of women here versus the number of men here and the number of opportunities for each of those, there is a huge gap.”
The new UPWARD RTP chapter hopes to bring women together for networking and mentorship in order to boost the rates of women in executive roles. It joins UPWARD’s 17 global chapters spanning 8,000 members.
UPWARD’s founder coming to Triangle
UPWARD’s founder Lisa Lambert will speak at the April 27 event. Lambert is also the founder of energy VC firm National Grid Partners and served as Intel Capital’s Software and Services Fund vice president and managing director for 19 years.
Like the launch event, there is no charge for general membership in UPWARD. Since there are no financial barriers to joining, the RTP chapter team hopes the group will be accessible to all women interested. And these women will have an opportunity to shape the chapter from the beginning, becoming involved in all of the program and speaker selections.
Lambert founded UPWARD in 2013 after years in venture capital. It was so rare to find other women in the same room, Lambert said. And the startling statistics that only around 5-7 percent of venture capitalists and only around 8 percent of tech founders are women inspired her to do something.
At the first UPWARD meeting, Lambert hosted over 90 women executives in her home. And from there it only grew.
“It’s rare that we find time to socialize together or to network,” Lambert said. “I believe that networking is the lifeblood of a professional career. If you’re not networking as a female executive, you’re probably not advancing.”
Lambert said UPWARD was one of the first places many women felt a community of support instead of competition, which women often face while attempting to secure the few seats at the top of the career ladder.
The underlying barriers to female entrepreneurship can’t be entirely solved by only half of the population, though. That’s why UPWARD has also created programs for men to better act as allies for women executives and entrepreneurs.
“If you’re hitting a glass ceiling at your company, then undoubtedly there’s another company where you can get to the next level,” Lambert said. “But you have to have a network that will help you get there.”
Think globally, act locally
More locally in the Triangle, Ramsey worked as a coach at UNC’s Entrepreneurship Center. While mentoring women trying to build their own companies, Ramsey found they were often facing some of the same challenges she experienced 20 years ago.
“I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was surprised and disappointed that things have not changed more than they had,” Ramsey said. “I don’t want women to continue to face the same challenges and to continue to face the same bias.”
Upon launching, the UPWARD RTP chapter aims to recruit 200 new members. So far, 100 women are registered for the launch event. UPWARD is also looking for additional sponsors to help them reach their goals.
Ramsey recognizes that UPWARD’s RTP chapter is not going to be able to solve all of the problems women face in the workforce overnight, but she hopes the opportunities facilitated will help close the gap one day at a time.
“All too often, we are told what we should be doing, how we should be acting, how we’re expected to perform, how we’re expected to respond,” Ramsey said. “To create a unique opportunity and a unique space for women to come together and explore those things and discuss things that we just don’t have an opportunity to otherwise, if we accomplished nothing other than that, then I will think that’s huge and powerful.”