Officials with the United Way of Forsyth County recently invited women from throughout the community to come together for an afternoon of finding inspiration, support and guidance in the world of business.
The group of more than 100 women gathered at the Forsyth Conference Center on Friday, Aug. 26, make up Women United, a group chartered by United Way in 2019 to bring a diverse group of female leaders together.
Cheryl Kearny, a board member of United Way, welcomed the group and reminded them that the event was meant to encourage each other’s success.
“Our goal today is to make sure that we provide the time and the space for candid conversations about challenges and myths for women in business,” Kearny said.
To do that, United Way invited business leaders to speak on how they found their “seat at the table.”
United Way Executive Director Ruth Goode introduced keynote speaker Ann Cramer, a senior consultant at Coxe, Curry and Associates. She has also served as a leader in United Way for many years.
“I feel so excited, because here in Forsyth County, you brought together such an amazing group of women,” she said, looking out at the crowd and pointing out successful business owners and leaders from nonprofits including The Place of Forsyth County.
“So when I see you all here, my heart is just so full,” she continued. “I'm so grateful for your taking this precious time to be together. And of course, to support our United Way.”
During her speech, Cramer covered three topics: How women can break down barriers to success, how to build a “courageous and bold” foundation of values to stand on, and keys to success that she has learned over decades as a business leader.
She began by telling a story of when she was appointed to Georgia State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers.
“And of course, the board of engineers is made up of all white men,” Cramer said. “They looked at us, especially the Georgia Tech women, and [chanted] geek, geek, geek. I’d sit there and just be mortified.”
She recalled coming to one of the board’s meetings early and sitting at the head of the table. Joking, the other members asked her if she thought she could lead the meeting. Crowder responded with a confident “Yes.”
During the meeting, everyone participated so they got all the work done and were able to go home early. From then on, the other board members asked if she could chair all the meetings, which she did for the last eight of her 10 years on the board.
“But it’s not just where you sit,” Cramer explained. “It’s what you say.”
While Cramer had earned her seat at that table, she emphasized it was just as important for her to establish her own foundation of values and beliefs to stand on and use her leadership to enact change.
She said all female leaders should allow for a diverse set of voices to be heard and to reshape the social landscape in a positive way.
Cramer’s five keys to success in business were:
Understand your values;
Manage your energy;
Frame problems positively;
Connect with friends;
Engage with the community.
Julie Brennan, publisher of My Forsyth magazine, introduced a panel to the stage to speak about their experiences as women in business.
The panel included Cramer; Donna Drake, head of core laboratories for Solvay Specialty Polymers; Amy Fischer, director of surgical services at Northside Hospital Forsyth; and Lt. Nicole Greaves, serving as part of the jail division for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
They spoke on how they found their own seat at the table, their greatest challenges as women in a careers and how mentorship shaped their lives.
The panelists emphasized the importance of groups such as Women United to help foster support between women in Forsyth County. Drake said women are still not always treated as equals in business.
“Don’t let it get you down,” Drake said.
Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn closed out the event by thanking each panelist and audience members for coming to the event and supporting the United Way.
“It’s unfortunate but true that there are still challenges that we face as women,” Penn said. “But you all are overcoming them.”
For more information about Women United, visit www.unitedwayforsyth.com/women-united.