Thirty-five years ago (1979) in Howard County there were a number of well-educated moms who were interested in getting back into the work force. After several years of staying home, their children were now in school. As they started talking to one another, they realized they were estranged from the job market. The small group started meeting for lunch at Tersiguel’s on Main Street in Ellicott City. They talked and asked questions — who knew who? where does she work now? what jobs are available? Thus began the early days of networking in Howard County.
The group was started by County Council members Liz Bobo and the late Ruth Keeton. Its original name was The Women's Network. "There were so many talented, dynamic women involved in so many things in the county," Liz Bobo says. "This was a way for them to get together and share information." Bobo, who now represents part of Howard County in the Maryland House of Delegates, recalls that nearly 100 people quickly joined The Women's Network.
The Network met every month. An objective of the organization has always been to provide networking opportunities to county women but, at first, according to Bobo, "It was more informational networking. The group provided support for professional women and gave us an opportunity to share our strengths and knowledge with each other." Peggy Mohler, director of Howard Community College's International Business and Educational Center, notes: "The members now seem more established in their businesses. Then, most were in the preparatory stage — they were thinking about starting businesses and were working it through."
In the early 1990's as more and more women rejoined the business world and struggled with balancing work and home, the group's membership began to dwindle. In 1992, Sarah Pick, who today is Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Institute for Genome Studies, brought new vitality to the group by organizing a board of directors to address new issues for the Network. In 1993, under the Leadership of Janice Bauman, principal of J.M. Bauman Associates, the Network incorporated as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the advancement of women in all sectors of the business community. To reflect this new focus, the name was changed to the Business Women's Network of Howard County. Janice served as BWN's President for seven straight years.
In 1999, under the leadership of Susan Rapaport, attorney with Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny, the group's twelve member Board of Directors began to run the organization like a professional business. Membership grew under Presidents Mary Kay Boler, MK Boler Associates in 2000 and Eileen Levitt, President of The HR Team, in 2001. Mary Kay proposed the idea of offering a scholarship to a Howard County High School Senior. What began as one $1,000 scholarship in one year BWN expanded to an additional scholarship to a "Life Long Learner" Howard County female, returning to complete or further her education. The scholarships are awarded at the annual Volunteer Tea in June of each year. In 2004 BWN's Board voted to increase the dollar amounts of the scholarships and a total of $4000 was awarded that year.
A Strategic Plan Task Force was formed in 2001, initiated by Mary Kay Boler. This small group created a broad-based Five Year Plan which is reviewed and focused on twice a year. Each year the new Board chooses three priority initiatives to work on. Much has been accomplished in technology, marketing, membership, succession and expanding BWN's role in the community.
BWN's Board knew that the group needed to keep pace with technology. In 2002, under the creative guidance of Joan Cranmer of Tempest Web Publications, the website was born. Today this site serves not only as an on-line membership directory and meeting registry, but as BWN's electronic newsletter, membership application and information, marketing channel, archives, community calendar and scholarship application information. The site is updated periodically with Board, committee and volunteer information.
In an effort to reach the next generation of professional business women, 2003 President Suzanne Colvin solicited the advice of Howard County Community College, the University of Phoenix and University of Maryland, Baltimore County. BWN's Student Membership was created in 2002. This enables college women to join at a reduced rate and mix and mingle with the County's best business women — something not learned in the classroom. BWN believes that networking skills are imperative in order to survive in today's competitive business world.
BWN is not a Leads group which focuses on exclusivity, nor is it a social group. One visit to a monthly meeting will prove that we are a dynamic, supportive group of professional men and women, from all sized businesses, who encourage the success of its members. Over 80% of our members are small business owners ranging from sole proprietorships, physicians, attorneys, accountants to corporate employees. Our monthly programs provide education and encourage community involvement.
BWN has accomplished a great deal towards its mission during the first 25 years of existence. There is much more to do. To those of you who are unfamiliar with BWN, we hope you will join us at one of the monthly meetings. To those of you who make up our loyal membership, we ask for your continued support and that you consider joining one of our committees as a volunteer. You will find it rewarding in many ways.