There is a small but mighty networking group in Eastern Ontario, with the focus of empowering female entrepreneurs in the region.
Eastern Ontario Women in Business (EOWIB) was started by Kemptville resident Ann Max in 2019, with the goal of centralizing and growing local female networking groups across Eastern Ontario. This includes Kemptville Women in Business, North Dundas Women in Business, South Dundas Women in Business, Smiths Falls Women in Business, and, more recently, Kingston Women in Business.
Current President, Sheri Godfrey, took over from Ann in July, 2020. Sheri lives in Gananoque, and is a visibility business coach. “I help women believe in the power of their voice and the worth of their words,” she says. “Oftentimes, women will sit at the back of the room, afraid to stand up and say their piece, and I think it’s important that we give women the tools and the ability to stand up.”
Sheri believes the power of EOWIB reaches far beyond networking and business-building. Their gatherings give women the ability to connect with other business owners and share their triumphs and struggles with a community that understands. “It’s super important to be able to bring together a group of really strong, like minded women, so that we can talk about those issues safely and we can move through the challenges and, likewise, celebrate the wins.”
It is important for female entrepreneurs to own that being successful in business as a woman is no longer a dirty word. Sheri says that, when she was growing up, strong women were viewed in a very unkind way. “It’s the ‘bitch’ context. That it’s the only way that you can get ahead in businesses and be strong and powerful.” Although that trope still exists, Sheri believes that women in business thrive when they set aside the competition and lift each other up. “I believe when one rises, we all rise.”
Normally, EOWIB would run networking events in all the smaller communities where they have chapters; but due to the pandemic, this has not been possible for almost a year. Instead, EOWIB hosts monthly virtual meetings that they call Conversations to Connect, which feature a guest presenter and allows women from all chapters to share how things are going and to receive support. Although these monthly virtual meetings are beneficial, Sheri sees many female entrepreneurs who are tired and yearning for that in-person connection. “I think many people’s cups, so to speak, are depleted right now, and that, when we get back to in-person, it’s really going to be to bolster the mental health aspect of women in business, as opposed to finding those collaboration partners, or seeking out new clients and finding new lead sources and referral sources.”
EOWIB also allows brick and mortar and home-based businesses connect with female entrepreneurs outside of their usual footprint. “I think it’s important that, if they choose, we have options to connect them to people outside of their community,” Sheri says.
As the fairly new president of EOWIB, Sheri thrives on creating those connections and highlighting the stories of female entrepreneurs, which often reach far beyond their business. In their weekly newsletter, EOWIB features one of their members, talking not only about their business, but about them as people. “I do one-on-one interviews, and we do some of their back-story. Who are they? Where did they come from? What makes their heart sing? And then we move into their business and how it all ties in together, so as women we can see that we do have the full package going on.”
The organisation has quite a large number of followers on Facebook, but membership has dropped to around 40 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sheri is hoping that, as more people get vaccinated, she will be able to travel around the various communities in Eastern Ontario and find more female entrepreneurs who might benefit from what EOWIB offers. She is also hoping to host a two day in-person business retreat in October, which will have both the business and connection components that are at the core of the organization.
EOWIB is always looking for new members. Their next virtual networking session is on March 17, from 11:30am-1:30pm, which will feature a presenter who will be talking about Mailchimp and email marketing. EOWIB is offering a free ticket to NG Times readers who are interested in attending the session and learning more about EOWIB. To receive the special discount code, email Sheri at [email protected]gmail.com. If you would like more information about the organization before the session, feel free to check out their website at www.eowibiz.ca, or email Sheri to set up a Zoom coffee date.
Story by Hilary Thomson, The North Grenville Times, for the Local Journalism Initiative