RALEIGH — A new group supporting women leaders in the Triangle is gaining traction—fast.

A brainchild of the non-profit organization Leadership Triangle and the Raleigh Chamber’s Leadership Raleigh, the group was originally going to have 100 participants in the pilot. But thanks to overwhelming interest and support, leaders are now setting their sights on 300 participants. That’s according to Shana Overdorf, Director of Leadership Development at the Raleigh Chamber.

“For Raleigh, the Triangle region to continue to attract and retain top female talent, we must create spaces where women feel supported, bolstered and connected to their community,” Overdorf told me over email.

And they’re well on their way, according to Kristine Sloan, Executive Director of Leadership Triangle.

“We have 174 women currently signed up,” Sloan told me over email. “The response was tremendous.”

Called the “Women’s Leadership Affinity Group,” the pilot program is open to female-identifying alumni of Leadership Raleigh and Leadership Triangle.

Funded by a City of Raleigh Impact Partner Grant

The City of Raleigh helped sponsor this pilot project, funding the group through the Impact Partner Grant program, which is managed by the City’s Office of Strategy and Innovation (OSI).

“We recognized the need for greater mentorship and support, especially as we transition from the difficult pandemic period, and are eager to see these connections strengthen through the Women’s Leadership Affinity Group,” said Dr. Cristina Leos, Senior Innovation Strategist with OSI.

The group received a $20,000 grant, according to the City’s website.

Leos said that the office was interested in the collaborative aspect of the group.

“We were excited to see this partnership between Leadership Triangle and the Raleigh Chamber Community Development Foundation to support women,” said Leos.

Overdorf told me that the group is now an important example of city collaboration as well.

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“The group offers an example of the power of city-funded affinity group spaces and can be a pilot for additional citywide affinity groups,” said Overdorf. “It can also be a space for city-funded collaborations.”

And according to Sloan, the grant will help the group focus on multiple areas of growth.

“Through this grant, we will bring those communities together in a Women’s Leadership Affinity Group that will focus on accelerating women’s financial equality, making a positive difference and leveraging the power of our Alumni as resources to help all women move forward financially,” Sloan told me.

Service-focused opportunities

The group will offer networking, professional development, and service-focused opportunities throughout the year, says Overdorf. The outline currently includes:

  • 4 Service Projects, supporting women-owned nonprofits or small businesses in the Triangle selected by the alumni of the programs through a survey.
  • 4 Program Days that will include a guest speaker or facilitator, aimed at advancing key needs, determined by the program alumni through a survey in professional development.
  • 4 Afternoon Networking, such as our launch at Junction West, women-owned venue in Raleigh. These will be held throughout the Triangle with intentional programming as part of the social

Additionally, both Overdorf and Sloan will hold 1:1 office hours throughout the year, opening up their program leadership team to the group on an individual level.

It’s not just networking, not just volunteering, and not just professional development—but all three, says Overdorf.

“We anticipate the Women’s Affinity Group will create 2,400 hours of additional networking and engagement opportunities, including 600 hours of volunteerism and 800 hours of free professional development,” said Overdorf.

Kickoff was “nothing short of incredible”

I spoke with Valencia Hicks-Harris, Founder & Executive Director of the nonprofit Empower All Inc., and member of the Women’s Leadership Affinity Group. She told me that the group’s kickoff event, hosted earlier this month, was “nothing short of incredible.”

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“The initial meet-up left me brimming with joy and my cheeks sore from all the laughter shared,” Hicks-Harris told me. “The session was designed to foster connections among unfamiliar faces, and it truly delivered. We embarked on an activity that encouraged each of us to open up and share our personal ‘truths’ within small groups.”

Hicks-Harris, who’s both a Goodmon Fellow (’22) and a member of the Raleigh Chamber, told me that the group is needed in the Triangle for several reasons, including advocacy, community, skill development, representation, and more.

“While progress has been made in terms of gender equality, there is still a need for greater representation of women in leadership positions, industries, and decision-making roles,” said Hicks-Harris. “Women’s affinity groups provide a platform to amplify women’s voices, experiences, and achievements, thereby increasing their visibility and influence.”

Sloan says the power of the group will lie in its local connections.

“To combat pay disparities and existing inequities in the labor market, women need localized professional networks of mentorship, sponsorship, and support,” said Sloan. “While national networking communities offer extensive opportunities for women to connect online, we know that local relationships matter. In fact, research shows that up to 80% of jobs are filled through personal and professional connections.”

Hicks-Harris told me that she envisions the group as a space for women to “collectively identify ways to support each other.”

“Being part of this affinity group signifies my commitment to not only my personal development but also to the advancement of all women within the community,” said Hicks-Harris. “I am excited to embark on this journey of mutual growth, collaboration, and empowerment, as we collectively work towards breaking barriers, shattering glass ceilings, and embracing our roles as influential leaders.”

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