WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Club seeks equity for women at work

REGION- There’s a quiet little group in the area that’s making big changes for women in the workplace–and girls on their way there. It’s the Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPW), and it has five working chapters in northern Michigan alone–all part of a national organization that works on women’s issues one corner of the world at a time.

Elk Rapids, Traverse City, Mancelona, Cheboygan and Petoskey all host a BPW chapter, ranging from 15 to 40 members each. Around the state, 1,300 members meet on a monthly basis with a mission to achieve equity for all women in the workplace through advocacy, education and information. They play an active role in women’s rights legislation on the state and national level.

“BPW isn’t about the workplace so much as it is about self-improvement and networking,” said Jan Worthington, treasurer of the Elk Rapids chapter and secretary of vice president of communication for the state BPW. “People share in each other’s successes, experiences and information.”

Their primary goal is to prepare women and girls to enter today’s marketplace. And that means education. BPW sponsors programs like Kids Kollege (a weekend program for 10- to 16-year-old girls), Development and Young Careerist programs for women, and scholarships for women returning to the workforce.

One of the most exciting projects for youths in the works at three chapters is the Reality Store program. Elk Rapids and Mancelona chapters both have already brought the program to local junior high schools, while the Traverse City chapter is hoping to launch the program in the fall for area eighth graders.

“We take volunteers into the schools and work with kids on the reality of the ‘real world,'” Worthington explained. The program is set up like a game where students roll dice or draw from a fishbowl their careers, salaries and family lives. From there, they must figure out how to live through life’s disasters (auto accidents) and windfalls (an inheritance) and keep their checkbook and family afloat.

“This program is one of the most rewarding things you can do,” Worthington added. “You can see every one of the 75 to 100 kids we work with each time get the message: stay in school and make good choices.”

The scholarship program is what Mary Kokosky Berner, Traverse City chapter vice president and “BPW Woman of the Year,” enjoys working on the most.

“We grant scholarships to women who are trying to better themselves,” she explained. One year that was a woman needing funds to secure a hairdresser’s license. Another year it went to a woman completing a First Responder’s Course.

“She went on to instruct police, ambulance drivers and emergency crews on what to do (when they arrive on the scene of an accident). By helping her with her education, we were able to educate a lot of others,” Berner said.

The variety of projects, members and topics presented by the group is one of the biggest appeals for Worthington.

“Members range from 20 to 90 years old, and I don’t think there’s a topic that isn’t discussed in the group,” she said.

Dorothy Crimmins is a retired banker who has been a BPW member of the Traverse City chapter since 1987 (plus several more years prior to that in Plymouth), and has been vice president for the last two years.

“There are retired people, business owners and homemakers in the group,” Crimmins noted. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to network with ladies in other occupations. When I started looking for a house, a (BPW member) helped me. When I had to transfer my bank accounts, one of the members was a bank manager.”

The group’s informal atmosphere welcomes guests to stop in at meetings–both men and women. The only requirement for joining, according to Worthington, is, “belief in our mission: women helping women.”

The group is also involved with bell ringing for the Salvation Army and buying food and gifts for a family each Christmas. For years, they also served at the NMC Barbecue.

Each chapter meets once a month. Elk Rapids meets on the second Tuesday of each month, and Traverse City (at Mabel’s) on the fourth Monday–expect during the summer months. Membership fees vary by chapter. For example, Elk Rapids is $49.50 but it includes membership in the local, state and national BPW and subscriptions to newsletters and “BusinessWoman.”

For further information, call Worthington at 264-8713 or find them on the Web at www.bpw-michigan.org. BPW recently added a new online “Web organization” for people unable to attend regular meetings, complete with online chats and PowerPoint presentations. BIZNEWS