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Sherri Richards, Published September 29 2013

Local women’s networking groups provide referrals, connections, friendships

FARGO - When Cheryl Bergian first became an attorney, the annual meetings of the Cass County Bar Association were held at a men’s fraternal organization, a building she wasn’t allowed to enter except as a guest at any other time, she says.

Women were moving from an “extreme minority to a visible minority” in law school, Bergian says, and these key networking events held the aura of an old boys’ club.

Years later, she was invited to a new women’s club, Women’s Business Exchange, a networking group that formalized in 2004.

Through it, she has made trusted business contacts and heard interesting speakers.

Today, Bergian looks at the lack of women leaders in state government, judicial courtrooms and some boards of directors, and sees a continued need for women’s networking groups.

“I look at those kinds of disparities in the profession and I say we need these opportunities to connect up with each other until we get to the point where we have women walk into any organization and see ourselves represented at the level we are in the population,” Bergian says.

Fargo-Moorhead is home to several women’s networking opportunities, which attendees say build connections and offer support for women as they strive to reach their career goals.

In these groups, women build not only contacts but friendships.

Kristi Huber, resource development director with the United Way of Cass-Clay, sees the power of women networking with each class of the United Way’s 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program.

During the six months, participants learn about themselves, their talents and skills, and build a network of support with each other, Huber says.

“They’re not just networking for business … it’s so much more,” she says. “It rounds out their sphere of influence. It’s not necessarily about how much more they will sell. It’s the value in really knowing that those people have your back, that those people are really supportive. That’s the trust that’s been grown.”

Women are more relational, Huber says, which makes networking more authentic and productive.

“We take that time to understand what others are looking for and how we can help them,” she says. “When you are working with someone who truly cares about connecting you with the right people, I think that the quality of those connections can be better and more helpful.”

Karen Walkin, owner of Design Unlimited, an interior design firm in Fargo, points to research by author A.D. Pradeep, who specializes in in neuromarketing research. In his book, “The Buying Brain,” he writes that while the male brain’s highest goal is to achieve autonomy, the female brain’s goal is community.

Walkin says when women network, the dialogue is multifunctional. “It provides an opportunity to promote your business, but it also provides an opportunity to find more friends,” she says.

She started attending a monthly networking event sponsored by the Diva Connection Foundation, now renamed Women’s Impact, at the beginning of the year.

“I love the energy and enthusiasm that is expressed by all the women who attend. It has helped me feel less isolated in this community,” Walkin says.

Marie Wollschlager, an Uppercase Living representative, also found friendships through a networking group after moving here from the Twin Cities. She’s a member of Women in Networking (WiN), which meets twice a month.

Each meeting features presentations by two members plus a chance for all of the 20-plus members to share minute-long “commercials.” The group also hosts an annual fall vendor show, slated for Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in Fargo.

Wollschlager says networking with other women has helped her business in a big way. Last month, she was No. 7 in the company, she says.

She also values the trusted referrals from other members.

“If I need something from baking to investments to insurance, I know where to go,” Wollschlager says.

Cari Rauch, a life coach and president of Women’s Business Exchange, says the group has provided her mentorship, a comfortable place to promote her business and a greater knowledge of services and businesses in the community.

Bergian, the attorney, also appreciates the reminder that, eventually, women will make up not only half the population, but half the people in business, too.

“I’m continually impressed by the number of women who are entrepreneurs,” Bergian says. As someone who is in a male-dominated profession, she says “it’s just nice to be reminded … that there are a lot of women out there who are opening their own businesses or are in management.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556