Each month, a room at Rainbow Lanes in Clayton plays host to a business meeting.
At tables adorned with flowers, the attendees eat lunch while listening to a speaker.
No sign is on the door, but the implication is clear: no men allowed.
Clayton’s Women in Networking group is in its fourth year of bringing together dozens of the town’s female business leaders. Many are Clayton Chamber of Commerce members, some are bankers, some run their own business, and others work on commission. Current president Kim Loftin said the club is a mix of social and business but is built around supporting women in the business community.
“It’s a sisterhood,” she said. “When it started, there wasn’t anything in town for businesswomen other than the chamber. This is a way for us to support one another, to empower each other.”
Loftin puts the group’s roster at roughly 100 these days, and says membership comes at a small cost: $50 in annual dues and a fee for the luncheon meeting. WIN offers annual college scholarships, and over its history, Loftin said, the group has given $10,000 to the Harbor women’s shelter in Smithfield.
The group’s April meeting drew about 60 members, ranging from 20-somethings to septuagenarians. Political discussions often mention America’s limited maternity leave compared to other countries and the lingering reality that women earn three quarters for every male dollar.
Former WIN president Martha Stovall, who runs a tutoring company, said the group is only recently starting to broach political topics, but she thinks the older generations have much to offer the younger members.
“The younger generation hasn’t seen some of the same challenges we’ve been through,” Stovall said. “They’ve had some advantages we didn’t have, but some of these challenges are like turning around a battleship. It takes time. One of our goals is to empower our younger members.”
“Networking” conjures images of awkward conversation, but Stovall said members help break down the barriers that cold calls and first meetings often cause.
“I’ve learned about services I didn’t know existed,” she said. “We’re able to send business to one another. Maybe a banker can help a member with a loan, or in my case, someone’s neighbor might need help in school. We try to keep things level.”
Female business leaders, Stovall said, at least come from a place of common ground, a place that is often balancing the demands of home and office.
“We’re working against the perception that women in business aren’t taken as seriously,” she said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson