Whatcom Women in Business (WWIB) is a group made up of 30 to 40 local women who care about and support each other in leadership roles around the county. If you are a female business owner or manager and aren’t involved, you could be missing out on opportunities.
“What makes me come back each year is that it becomes a family, a close-knit club,” says Jamie Smeall, human resources manager at Avenue Bread and banquet chair for WWIB. “I could call any of the members at any time for whatever reason, personal, business, anything.”
“We focus on professionalism, mentoring, business acumen, community unity and giving back,” says Julie Guay, executive director of Blue Skies for Children.
“If you just want to come network, it’s probably not a good fit,” says Guay. The group is relationship-based, comprised of women who care about developing long-lasting friendships.
“You get to know each other on a personal level; it’s not just passing business cards around,” says Guay. “It’s a ‘how can I help you, and how can you help me’ kind of environment.”
Members not only build a community of friends and mentors, but also raise money for college scholarships and award $3,000 to $5,000 annually featured non-profits.
“I would say that 75 percent of the membership, and past members, either attend my [Blue Skies for Children] events, sponsor the events or donate auction items and services,” says Guay. As charity chair for WWIB, members support her in her role as a non-profit leader by helping to raise money for the cause.
Smeall works for Avenue Bread, where she’s the eyes and ears of the company, learning about non-profits the company can support through WWIB. “I’m introduced to so many events and organizations in town so we can give back,” she says. “It’s a way for [Avenue Bread] to add to their auctions, and it’s good marketing.”
Smeall is grateful that Avenue Bread allows her the opportunity to be a part of WWIB, by paying for her membership and giving her the freedom to contribute more to the community.
“It adds value to my work,” says Smeall, “and the younger generation is appreciating that more.”
In her work in human resources, she meets a lot of young people just starting out in their careers. “They’re always looking for what else can they get out of [their jobs]; more than just a paycheck. If a business contributes funds for me to help at Blue Skies, I feel better in my heart. It adds value to me working at Avenue Bread.”
Like-minded businesswomen are brought together under one shared cause where they can have peer-to-peer opportunities. “It doesn’t matter the age or the business,” says Guay. “It just matters to have somebody you don’t work with on a daily basis, another perspective to bring in on a casual conversation when you have something you want to bounce off somebody.”
WWIB members from small businesses can benefit from networking with others if they don’t have experts on staff to answer specific questions and give advice.
“I send [Smeall] HR questions because I have a small staff and she has a large staff,” says Guay. “I randomly run into things I don’t deal with every day. We all have our niches for expertise in the group.”
After developing relationships, members use each other’s services. Guay utilized the group’s real estate agent, Andi Dyer when she needed to sell two properties last year. “I like the fact that I already knew who she was,” Guay says. “Andi did a great job.”
Aside from her HR duties at Avenue Bread, Smeall has a CSA side business called Squalicum Acres. WWIB helped her reach out to women she could have otherwise felt intimidated by and learn from their experience and knowledge.
“I come out of my shell communicating with all of these women,” Smeall says. “It helped me figure out how to open a business and is helping me grow as a businesswoman. I look at all these women who have done it before me, and the challenges they go through, and know I’m not the only one.”
WWIB members find companionship in each other; they support one another in business and work together to create a community of resources.
- WWIB has one large fundraiser every year, its Professional Women of the Year Gala. This year’s event will be held October 11th at the Four Points Sheraton.
Money raised at the gala goes to fund the next year’s college scholarship recipients and the featured non-profit for the year. This year they’ll be honoring the YWCA.
- WWIB is open to new members – contact them to find out more!