Around 220 women gathered Wednesday night for a night of networking, mentorship and support at UPWARD RTP’s Launch at The Loading Dock in Raleigh.
The event marked the beginning of UPWARD’s 19th global chapter after unveiling its 18th chapter in Atlanta the night before. UPWARD is a global network that aims to accelerate the advancement of executive women and now spans 8,000 members worldwide. [We first wrote about the organization on April 12.]
The launch event hosted a fireside chat with UPWARD Founder Lisa Lambert. Lambert, who is also the founder and president of energy VC firm National Grid Partners and worked as a VP at Intel for several years, began UPWARD in 2013 because she wanted a support system of professional women that she herself could draw on. It was after years of being so used to being the only woman in the room and working for men who did not value her.
“One of the things that really surprised me was how disarming it was for us to get together,” Lambert said. “I think we always kind of feel like we have to put on some sort of performance. We have to maybe be something that we’re not so we don’t look like we don’t belong, we’re not capable and competent. Just being in the group with your peers was refreshing.”
The first meeting brought in an astounding 90-plus women to Lambert’s home, and the organization only grew from there. Women finally felt comfortable letting it all out and talking about the things they couldn’t take to their board.
While working for an insecure male boss, Lambert said, “I found solace. I found encouragement. I found comfort in the action of forming UPWARD and the community that I was now immersed in.”
Lambert said the network and support system found in UPWARD can be vital for women to level up their careers. After all, men are constantly networking by virtue of having similar interests, having drinks after work and just laughing at the same jokes in industries like tech or finance that are still very much a boys’ club.
In the middle of the launch event, the RTP Upward Chapter leaders took to the stage and gave their “whys” for bringing the women’s network here.
Mary Elizabeth Windham, who runs Windham HR but spent decades as a lawyer, shared her personal story in getting here today.
“I really shouldn’t be here,” Windham said. In March of 2015, Windham was diagnosed with stage 2 metastatic melanoma. After a breakthrough clinical study, Windham went from having a rapidly fatal disease to disease-free in six weeks.
It was during this time that Windham fully realized she had an incredible strength that she was unaware of while she was working in corporate law and constantly feeling like a second-class citizen, she said.
“The environment you work in matters,” Windham said. “The environment you work in affects you 24/7, and you carry it with you years ahead.”
She also saw the renewed importance of leaning on others, which brings her to UPWARD today.
“We all need each other,” Windham said. “Every one of us needs each other. And there’s nothing bad about needing help. And so I come to UPWARD and I see an organization of women that are individually strong and interdependent in a really good way.”
UPWARD offers a variety of member programs for women, including strategic decision making, personal brand development, board leadership and entrepreneurship. UPWARD also started its male allyship program in recent years, which helps men become inclusive leaders, as well as a corporate program to help companies support women in leadership.
In an effort to get rid of any financial barriers, UPWARD membership has been made free. Women can also use the UPWARD app to connect with women across the globe. All of this is in hopes of changing the current working world women have found themselves in and leaving a legacy for the next generation.
“I don’t want my daughters to have the same conversation 20 years from now,” said Tina Cochrane, a mother of three and the founder of talent recruitment company C-Search. “I want my daughters to enter the workforce knowing they can conquer, knowing they can power through it, and not have to worry about being called ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling.’”