As a rising college freshman, one of the reasons why I’m happy to be at DesignHammer this summer is that it is an excellent opportunity to learn about small business and entrepreneurship. Working in an office setting is a chance many of my peers, having summer jobs as lifeguards or cashiers, may not get until during or even after college.
I’m lucky to be here, since the day-to-day operations of a small firm will not necessarily be a part of my engineering curriculum in college, and experience in a business setting will add context to my education. It’s also relevant because after I graduate, I very well may end up working for a small business or even starting one of my own. I am grateful for DesignHammer’s support and help in my search to experience business firsthand.
Notes on the Women's Business Roundtable
To learn more about entrepreneurship, I attended this month’s meeting of the Women’s Roundtable at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. DesignHammer has been a member for over ten years, as well as the developer of the Chamber’s website. As someone who has neither attended a roundtable nor worked for a small business before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I imagined a dimly lit room full of women, dressed in impeccably tailored business attire, engaging in a formal discussion on dry business topics such as budget spreadsheets or accounting.
A Welcoming Business Discussion
The real roundtable was friendly and informal. The twenty or so of us, coffee in hand, gathered around a conference table in a bright room at the Chamber. There was plenty of chatter, laughter, and introductions until the forum began, and women continued to arrive even after the posted start time of eight o’clock.
The roundtable participants represented a wide variety of job descriptions, from financial advisers and insurance agents to speech therapists and inspirational speakers. Representatives and owners from local businesses such as Healing Multiverse Massage Therapy, Aspire Transitions, and the non-profit Diabetes Sisters also attended the roundtable.
A New Roundtable Format
Over the past few years, the Chamber has held a series of lectures and roundtables designed specifically for women who own or work for small businesses. Recently, however, the Chamber has had difficulty finding speakers, and when a speaker did come, only three to five women attended. The purpose of Tuesday’s roundtable was to brainstorm ideas for future speakers and to give the Chamber feedback on the roundtable series.
After an hour of productive discussion, we came up with several promising ideas for upcoming events.
- Members of the roundtable, because of their considerable knowledge and experience, will speak about business topics of interest.
- Outside speakers will be asked to prepare a more participatory and discussion-based program.
- Potential topics for upcoming roundtables include communication, business planning, and health and wellness for entrepreneurs.
- Forums designed to solve the problems participants are facing in their businesses.
- More time designated for networking.
Designed Specifically for Women
The Chamber offers several different roundtable events during the year, but the Women's Roundtable is the only one geared specifically toward a female audience. Should the roundtable focus on "women's topics" or issues concerning business? One of the participants made the excellent point that women came to these roundtables to benefit their respective businesses, not to hear about decorating their homes for the holidays. Naturally, some roundtable topics would apply only to women. For example, the participants expressed an interest in hearing about public speaking for women; specifically, how we can remove "weak" language from our vocabulary in order to communicate more effectively and empower ourselves in the workplace. Not all topics, however, would have to be designed for women in order to be useful; we would all benefit from a session on time management or marketing.
Overall, the women’s roundtable was both useful and engaging. I felt welcomed into the session, even though I was the youngest and least experienced member. Being in a group of all women created a more supportive and collaborative environment than our weekly, all-male-except-me staff meetings here at DesignHammer. Upon looking back, if the meeting at the Chamber had included men as well, I probably would not have felt as comfortable there as I did. I would have felt more pressure to be professional and formal because the event would have felt more like corporate business situation.The roundtable was a great experience and I look forward to attending the August discussion to learn more about entrepreneurship and small businesses.