Women’s groups still relevant?

Women’s organizations remain prevalent across the country and in the Grand Valley. Yet, in light of the strides women have made in the workplace over the past 50 years, are such organizations still relevant or even necessary in 2010?

“I have never found women networking groups to meet my personal needs,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Schwenke added, though, that she was only speaking about her personal preferences.

Like many women leaders, Schwenke usually meets with groups of both women and men. She said the situation might reflect a rural atmosphere in which the two genders have grown accustomed to working side-by-side on farms and ranches through the generations.

Schwenke said she wouldn’t be surprised if women’s organizations decline in popularity as the years go by. “If I were to make a prediction, I’m not sure that we need strictly women networking groups.”

She’s not alone in that viewpoint.

“I can see over time that a specific gender group, that need might diminish,” said Carol Skubic, market president for Vectra Bank Colorado in Grand Junction.

But for now, women’s organizations have their place, Skubic said. “I think they’re still valid for organizations that support, especially young women.”

Sally Schaefer, who often steers the direction of organizations with women and men, said there probably always will be a place for women’s organizations, but she tends to endorse efforts to pull various people together.

“Women’s networking groups are OK, but shouldn’t be exclusive (to women),” said Schaefer, retired chief executive of Hilltop Community Resources based in Grand Junction.

Others are more strongly supportive of the concept of women’s groups.

Kat Rhein, assistant vice president at the Vectra Bank branch on 24 Road in Grand Junction, is active in the Mesa County Women’s Network. Rhein said such organizations have a place because women understand how difficult it can be in the business world.

The women’s network tries to address a variety of issues, said member Brenda Watson, who also owns a business. Health and nutrition are the focus of a program scheduled for January. The group also discusses the role of social media in women’s businesses.

In fact, the expansion of social media offers a reason for women to meet in person.

“With the growing popularity of social networking, we find that meeting with others face to face has become more rare,” said Elaine Harris, spokeswoman for the Western Colorado Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction. She said the group hopes to grow from its base of 15 members in 2011.

“Meeting and networking with each other, continuing our education in the construction industry, mentoring a woman growing in the construction field by providing a scholarship and community service projects are the reasons we are active members,” Harris said.

Mary Lou Wilson, executive director of the Fruita Area Chamber of Commerce, said she supports women’s organizations. She belongs to the chamber’s own women in business group, which offers programs designed to help women, especially those who own their own businesses.

Wilson said women owners can be diligently engaged and proactive in their communities.

National surveys examining the differences between men and women managers conclude that, in general, men are aggressive and women are nurturing. A 2008 story in the McKinsley

Quarterly noted that women tend to make deeper emotional connections with colleagues and business partners. They also exhibit more social skills.

While the future of women’s organizations might be as much in doubt as men-only groups, there’s enough support for them in the Grand Valley to keep them moving ahead into the next decade.