Peterborough-area businesswomen who’ve been unable to network face-to-face during the pandemic can look forward to once again stretching their social muscles and meeting new people when the Women’s Business Network of Peterborough (WBN) officially kicks off its 2022-23 season on Wednesday, September 7th at the Holiday Inn Waterfront in downtown Peterborough.
For 61 years, WBN has been helping to advance aspiring or experienced women in business. Members can find mentors and collaboration partners, get new business leads and referral sources, hear advice from experts, and make new friends as they mix and mingle at monthly meetings with dynamic and inspiring speakers.
Incoming WBN President Diane Wolf of Diane Wolf Counselling says it’s refreshing to see in-person gatherings back on the calendar, after the pandemic limited WBN’s traditional opportunities for professional women to make in-person connections.
“We were winging it just like everyone else,” says Diane. “The last couple of years have gone well for WBN under the capable leadership of both Danielle McIver (2020-2021 WBN President), who had to manage a solely virtual year, and then Christine Teixeira (2021-2022 WBN President), who worked very hard to figure out how we were going to go from plan A to plan B each month.”
Over the past two years, WBN adjusted to the realities of the pandemic by hosting monthly virtual meetings that included guest presenters and opportunities for members to engage in virtual break-out rooms. While a handful of in-person social events also took place, these were limited in size and scope to accommodate public health restrictions.
Diane says that, while the virtual meetings were beneficial, many female entrepreneurs are tired of online meetings and are yearning for that face-to-face connection again at WBN’s member meetings, which will once again take place monthly on Wednesdays at the Holiday Inn.
“A lot of people are feeling depleted right now and don’t want to spend their Wednesday nights on Zoom,” Diane says. “They want to be back to having a more interpersonal exchange.”
Along with organizing a full schedule of in-person meetings, WBN’s board of directors is making a concerted effort for the upcoming season to improve diversity and inclusion within its membership.
“There’s this perception that WBN is an exclusive old lady’s club where, to become a member, you have to have a certain level of success to belong — and that’s certainly not the case,” says Diane, who has been a member since 1999.
“We’re already very diverse age-wise, but we want to become even more inclusive for all women regardless of who they are and how long they’ve been in business.”
The WBN board also wants to offer more professional development opportunities for businesswomen from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, including minorities, people with disabilities, immigrants, LGBTQ+, and people who identify as women.
“We also want to attract women in business who are new to the Peterborough community,” Diane says. “They’ve known about us through word-of-mouth, but are newer to the area and may not realize what we have to offer is very appropriate for new entrepreneurs.”
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely and overwhelming place, she adds, especially for women who have started a business in the last few years or are recovering from the economic ripple effects brought on by the pandemic. Studies show that Canadian female-owned businesses across all industries are taking nearly twice as long to rebound from the financial setbacks of COVID than their male counterparts.
It also sheds light on a troubling gender dimension to the pandemic – one that has seen women take on more child care, elderly care and household duties, often at the expense of their careers and businesses.
Diane believes the power of WBN reaches far beyond the networking and business building offered by other local networking groups. Its gatherings give women the ability to connect with other female business owners in a safe space where they can share their triumphs and struggles with a community that understands.
“It’s important to be able to bring together a group of strong, like-minded women so that we can talk openly about our challenges and celebrate our wins,” she explains.
Benefits of WBN membership include the opportunity for members to feature their business in the WBN newsletter (which also circulates to members of the Peterborough and Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce), having access to the email addresses of all members for targeted advertising, promotion through WBN social media channels, and spotlighting their business at a monthly meeting.
Another membership benefit is WBN’s well-received peer mentoring program, first launched in 2019. The program, which runs from October to June, pairs volunteer mentors with other WBN members to support their mentee’s professional development.
Diane believes the peer mentoring program is important for members with any level of experience who can share lessons they’ve learned and counsel fellow members to learn a new skill, such as getting more comfortable with public speaking.
A full list of membership benefits is available on the WBN website at wbnptbo.ca/membership/.
For the 2022-23 season, WBN will continue its philanthropic volunteer projects, including its 30-year-plus support for the YWCA Crossroads Shelter, which helps local women and children fleeing domestic abuse.
In past years, WBN members have also participated in other community fundraising events, including the Pulling for Dementia Fire Truck Pull in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society, the Under the Lock sledge hockey tournament to support the Kawartha Blazers, and Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build which focuses on the nation’s affordable housing crisis.
WBN membership fees for 2022-23 are $425 for a single membership and $475 for a corporate membership. For women who are intrigued by WBN but aren’t yet members, the organization offers a guest program where they can attend a few meetings at a cost of $60 per meeting to see first-hand the extra value a membership brings.
“A membership is a huge investment for your business as it’s personal development and professional development,” Diane says. “You’re getting 10 dinners, speakers, networking, and mentoring. Each of those alone is worth a ton. I know of several members who said their membership paid for itself because they got extra business out of it to cover the cost.”
As Diane anticipates welcoming both previous and new members for the 2022-23 season, she says networking is more than just creating a LinkedIn profile – it’s about building in-person relationships.
“When you meet people at WBN, you’re not only finding individuals to do business with or to refer you to someone else,” she explains. “You’re finding people you can know, like, and trust.”
If you’re a woman in business (or a woman with an interest in business) in Peterborough and the Kawarthas and you want to find out more about WBN, visit wbnptbo.ca/membership/ or follow WBN on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
This branded editorial was created in partnership with the Women’s Business Network of Peterborough. If your business or organization is interested in a branded editorial, contact us.