The Chicago Network at 40

The Chicago Network at 40


– I would tell her – Trust your instincts. – Take more risks. – That she’s good enough. – [Woman] Think about what you love to do. – I wish I had left sooner. – Understand who your authentic self is. – And what makes her different. – Actually makes her better. – Just keep going. – That’s what I would tell myself. – You’d walk into a conference room, and people
would suggest maybe you get the coffee. I’ll be glad to get you the coffee. At my hourly rate, coffee will cost you $250. – You wanna stand out, right? You don’t wanna stick out, I think, is the
way I think about it. – I wore the dark suit and the bowtie, and
I did everything that was expected of me. And now, I think, in the last 10 years or
so, I’ve said, “Well, I need to be authentic. Or I can’t be sustainable as a leader because
it’s too hard to not be yourself.” – The most surprising thing about sort of
going up the ladder is that, actually, it gets harder. I find myself the only woman in the room actually
more often now than I have in the past. – It’s lonely to be at the top. It just is. It’s mostly a man’s place, historically. And so we’re breaking barriers, and that always
has a shattering effect. – Many times, I’m the only woman and minority
in the room. But I don’t take offense at that. I don’t walk in there with a chip on my shoulder. I know that I’m there because I have something
very good and very positive to offer. You’ve got a little sorority going here of
women who feel that way, and it’s good. It’s comforting. – In ’77, ’78, a handful of us got together. We were surprised at how isolated we all were. – When this started, the women were few and
far between and were struggling. And many of them never saw another woman in
the world that they were in. It was so clear that they needed people to
talk to, people to commiserate with, people to strategize with on every level. – Back in 1979, a number of us in the Chicago
business community felt that there was an opportunity to start to bring women together
who might otherwise not meet each other and who could be mutually supportive. – It grew to the point where there were 150-ish
numbers of women. I remember the reason that Amy became part
of the organization, Pam took her out for martinis. Amy doesn’t do well with martinis, so we had
a gay old time. And Amy joined us, and then she started to
make this into a real organization. – One particular case I remember is a woman
I know who had been let go of a company after many years, and she was pretty surprised. I knew someone who had just gone through a
separation agreement with the company. Put them together, and the first member said
she couldn’t believe the generosity and graciousness. That helped her enormously. – The thing is that we’re all very different. We look different. We have different styles, we have different
opinions. We are in different industries, but there
is a certain camaraderie and sisterhood where I feel like I have a board of directors who
can offer me consultation and advice. And I feel like I can really open up because
I can completely trust them. – So the way I found out about it, actually,
was because I used to babysit the daughter of the woman who was the executive director. Even back in when I was in high school, I
heard about it. And I thought, I would like to be part of
a group like that. – We are the only organization that really
connects all the senior women leaders in Chicago. We endeavor to really mirror the variety of
professions that are out there, and we provide that safe haven. – When I think about the women who started
this, I think about how they created the place that really exists nowhere else. I just say thank you. – I’ve made many friends, good friends. And I’ve also been able to tap into their
experiences and their knowledge base for help. I mean, it’s just, like, a Rolodex. – I got on my first board besides Playboy
Enterprises through Shelly Rosenberg, and I’m not sure I would’ve met Shelly if it were
not for the network. There’s a lot of that that just goes on all
the time, and that’s over and above the deep personal friendships that come out of the
chance to spend time with people you might not otherwise meet. – Well, sometimes there are tricky situations
at work. And you want to talk to someone about how
to play out some scenarios, what some options might be. And you might not wanna share those with the
people at work. – And people are literally a phone call and
email away that will respond within minutes and offer their help and support for no other
reason than they want another female leader to be successful. – For me, it’s a really, it’s a safe place
where I can interact with other women but not have it be part of my professional work
unless I want it to be. – But help can also be personal. So if a member got breast cancer, I will say,
“Well, then connect her with another member who had just been through treatments.” – It can be pretty daunting as a new member
to walk into this community, but it really isn’t intimidating because of how welcoming
and non-judgmental The Chicago Network community is. – My first reaction when I went into the annual
dinner, I was really amazed at how friendly everybody was and willing to talk and engage. – In 1988, The Chicago Network hosted the
International Women’s Forum in Chicago. – We were the hosts one year. They had women as honorees, and ours was Audrey
Hepburn and Wilma Rudolph, two very different but fascinating women. – Audrey Hepburn came, smashing. And halfway through dinner, I walked over
to her and I said, “Do you think I could have a cigarette?” I was dying for a cigarette. And she said, “Oh, Amy, my dear, now I know
why you invited me.” – Every single time I come away from a Chicago
Network event, my soul is refreshed. My mind is rejuvenated, and I have wind in
my sails. And that is what is helping me to keep going. – My daughter was the first in her group to
be a woman in a New York Wall Street firm. How could that be, you know? Investment banking? I mean, why isn’t it half women? – If we’re graduating 50% women or 50% in
the population, there oughta be around a table in leadership in the same proportion. – In addition to our core message of connecting
women, we also focus on cultivating the next generation of women leaders. – I think women have the opportunity to influence
the culture in institutions, but I think it comes most easily when the women are in the
top spot in the culture. – There’s a level of conversation that’s going
on now that I haven’t seen in my 30 years in this industry, and so I’m incredibly encouraged
by the openness and frankness of those conversations. – I’m hoping that our gender equity principles
will really help drive more women into leadership roles. – I think we have great hope because I think
they will sit at the table, and they will rewrite the rules. – I am deliriously proud of the fact that
we were able to create this organization because it created an opportunity to know we’re not
crazy, that there are other women out there like us. – The many, many friendships and collaborations,
connections, that was my greatest joy. And it worked. It’s an incredible group of women, and they
needed one another. And they still do, I’m sure. – Job well done. They had a vision, they had an understanding
of a need. And that need still lasts today, but not in
the same way, of course, everything evolves, but, yes, to them, kudos. Job well done.

Author: Kevin Mason

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