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WEACT’s growth accelerates change

Barbara Marquand

When a handful of women decided to form a networking and professional development group for businesswomen in northern Nevada, they figured they were on to something.

Little did they know, though, how big that something might be.

Now just two years after going public, their group Women Executives Accelerating Change Today has more than 100 members, sponsors a full calendar of events and draws energy from women executives in a slew of industries.

“We knew there was a need, but the overwhelming response from all kinds of women was just amazing,” says Yvonne Stedham, one of the founders.

WEACT’s mission is to help women acquire the skills, knowledge and confidence to succeed in business through professional development and access to resources and networking.

It does this through a full menu of activities.

The group’s professional development seminars focus on business basics, such as writing a business plan, as well as less tangible issues, such as time management and assertiveness.

Annual summits feature a variety of business workshops.

Monthly mixers give members a chance to meet in an informal atmosphere, and quarterly “Biz Talk Blenders” provide a structured way for women to network and discuss topics, such as climbing the corporate ladder or work-life balance.

The blenders open with a presentation or panel on a particular topic, and then members break into smaller groups to discuss and sometimes produce a report for the larger group.

The structure gives members a focus for discussion, so they aren’t just set adrift in a sea of unknown faces.

More is on tap.

A group for WEACT working moms has started, and a youth committee is planning how to reach out to young people.

WEACT is also sponsoring a series of golf seminars this summer.

Samantha Fleischer, who directs marketing at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, got hooked when she attended her first “Biz Talk Blender” with her sister-in-law, attorney Bonnie Drinkwater.

Like most business people, Fleischer had felt the squirming awkwardness of trying to make small talk at stilted networking functions.

But at WEACT, she says, people didn’t just stand there; they interacted, and she felt comfortable.

Although she hasn’t participated in the group’s formal mentoring program, Fleischer says she feels like the group provides a guiding hand.

As a lone Reno-based employee for an Arizona-headquartered company, Brenda Staffan wanted to meet other local business professionals.

She didn’t set out to join “a women’s group,” but at WEACT, she found the camaraderie and inspiration she had sought.

“It’s very exciting to know I have a whole new group of business associates to be active in the community with.”

Staffan, now a board member, likes the fact that the group is member-driven and includes women from a wide variety of industries and professions.

Some are business owners, others work in corporate settings or in higher education, and some are just returning to the workforce.

Stedham, a professor of international and human resource management at the University of Nevada, Reno, is impressed by the eagerness of members to help one another.

In all her years of teaching and leading workshops, Stedham says she’s never seen such willingness to share information as she has when facilitating professional development seminars for WEACT.

Making all this happen hasn’t been easy.

Stedham says the biggest challenge for the founding board members was finding time outside of their full-time careers to implement the programs.

Stedham, who retired from the board this spring but remains active as a member, says the challenge for the group in coming years will be to evolve as the demands of its members change.


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