By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to The Sun
The business networking scene in Toronto is undergoing a dramatic facelift, and women are benefiting immensely from the changes.
Sharon Elston, founder of Women's Capital, wants to help women excel in life by tapping into their natural aptitude for relationship building.
"Men and women communicate differently and network differently," says Kate Taylor, president of DigitalEve Toronto. "Women are not great networkers, but they are great socializers -- we help them take that socializing to the next level."
DigitalEve is one of several female-only networking groups that have popped up in recent years to give women an edge in the workplace.
The non-profit national organization is geared toward Internet or IT professionals and currently has about 4,000 members. Much of the networking takes place online via chat groups, but the chapter also holds specific networking events and IT-related workshops throughout the year.
Taylor says the goal of the networking events is to help women get the most out of their professional relationships without feeling guilty about it.
"Women think it's a dirty word to use their relationships. We talk about the importance of going through your mental database to see if you can help someone, refer them to someone in need of their services. If you expand your network and constantly think about what you can do for someone else, it helps you get over the barrier of being pushy. It's a more natural way for women to communicate."
The DigitalEve network is of particular benefit to women working in the still largely male-populated IT profession. The workshops and networking events allow women to freely discuss workplace challenges that may be difficult to address at the office.
"Most of them work in an industry that's still fairly male dominated, and it's sometimes hard to confess that they're not sure how to do something," Taylor says. "We provide a safe environment for women in technology to expand their technical skills, develop their networking abilities and address challenges in the workplace."
For many women, however, their home may be their workplace, which is where the Women in a Home Office networking group comes in.
| KATE TAYLOR
A national organization with eight chapters, including six in Ontario, WHO holds monthly meetings, telemeetings and workshops that focus on both professional and personal development.
WHO's overriding purpose is to mitigate the isolationism that often accompanies working from home by helping women build local support groups. But founder Anne Stone says the all-women format enables women to delve beyond work issues and forge more meaningful connections.
"The general thread of education is related to running a small business, but we create an environment where members can go beyond the business side of it, to discuss health issues, family issues, whatever is important to them," Stone says. "It's about women supporting women, and making meaningful connections on many different levels."
Stone adds that the quality of networking in an all-female environment is entirely different than in a mixed group.
"Women by nature are nurturers, and the joke is that they solve problems by talking, but it's true. At our meetings there's a great energy in the room, women are talking and helping each other and laughing -- its phenomenal," Stone says. "You wouldn't get that candidness in a mixed group."
It's this sense of openness that Sharon Elston wants to preserve and promote. The professional and lifestyle mentor runs Women's Capital, an information-sharing and support network geared toward advancing career objectives and forging new friendships. Women's Capital holds a few meetings each month pertaining to generating business, growing income, achieving financial security and resolving lifestyle issues.
Elston says many women have fallen into the trap of the more formal, guarded networking that can typify not only mixed networking, but the highly competitive corporate world in which they may work. As with many other women-oriented networking groups, Elston wants to help women excel in life by tapping into their natural aptitude for relationship building.
"In the corporate world we hide who we are, we have to be evasive. I want women to be frank and honest, and not so protective of their personal interests," Elston says. "Education and friendship are primary with us. We need to support each other from
the heart and share our skills as a collective group so that we can learn from each other."
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