During a 30-year career at DuPont that included traveling globally and living overseas, Sharon Kelly Hake had noticed a common thread when talking to women leaders.
“Women did not feel valued and they struggled to find their voice. These women were smart, experienced, and credentialed, yet they did not believe their ideas or contributions were valued. So, I began to think about what I could do differently to help women discover their value, find their voice and implement their ideas successfully,” Hake said.
Justifying your existence
She also remembered growing up as one of seven children, with each being asked by their father at the dinner table – “Children, what did you do today to justify your existence?”
Hake took the plunge and left DuPont to start Great Dames in the depths of the 2009 recession.
“My colleagues were surprised that I was leaving a great job at DuPont at a very difficult time during the recession. But we decided it was actually a very good time to launch Great Dames because so many women were looking for ways to transition their careers and find new opportunities. We attracted many women who wanted to make a change and find more purposeful work,” Hake remembered.
Key elements of Great Dames include its fall powerful conversations series, a competitive event with the winner having the most powerful idea getting $25,000 in cash and services, and peer groups that meet regularly.
“We know that women thrive when they are surrounded by other supportive women, so we designed a community that fostered supportive relationships based on trust,” Hake says. “We have so many stories of powerful outcomes that arose from a Great Dames relationship. Dames help each other discover their power and purpose; they listen and help clarify each other’s ideas; they hold each other accountable; they forge meaningful friendships that matter.”
Great Dames will mark its 10thanniversary in April with a celebration event in Hockessin. Click on headline below for details.
Dr. KimberlyNalda won the 2016 Great Dames Remarkable Ideas Competition II and was awarded $25,000 in resources, mentorship, and leadership and business training. She says winning the competition has made a big impact on her new business, Rekindle Family Medicine, a New Castle County medical practice that spends more time with patients, thanks to a membership program.
“I was a fledgling business owner and the business and marketing training, andmentorshipwas some of the most valuable information I have received in my life,”Nada stated. “In addition, being a member of Great Dames has expanded my worldview with inspirational talks and deepening friendships with the influential women of Delaware and the surrounding area. I always walk away from meetings inspired and optimistic and encouraged that we all can change the world if we put our minds to it.”
Rebecca Fuller said Great Dames “made me better at work and better at home,” noting that she attended her first meeting at the suggestion of her mother, despite misgivings that she did not have time to take out of her schedule.The sharing of common concerns ledto the conversations “getting into my head, but in a good way,” she said.
“Great Dames has taken empowering girls and women to another level,” says Vernita Dorsey, an executive with WSFS Bank, Wilmington.
Going through a learning curve
Great Dames did througha learning curve in gaining its current position, Hake says. One challenge involved working with other women’s organizations. After initially focusing on partnerships, Great Dames instead opted to refer women to organizations when appropriate.
“Over time, we realized we were diluting our efforts and we needed to focus on our own mission vs someone else’s,” Hake says.
A major shift took place as the Great Dames’ community moved beyond women in the corporate world working to balance career advance and family needs.
“A conversation with an emerging young woman leader planted a seed. She was looking for leadership development programs for women in our community who did not have easy access to them. She wanted to invite her Gen X and Millennial colleagues to benefit from the mentors, workshops, peer groups that we were offering, because her colleagues had strong leadership potential,” Hake said. That conversation really struck me, and it led to a significant shift in our strategy. We probably would have launched Great Dames with that strategy if we had known then what we know now.”
The change has led to Great Dames Powerful conversations series having a large contingent of young women from diverse backgrounds.
The result has been powerful,thought-provoking and inspiringconversations that include young women talking about losing friends to violence in Wilmington and still finding ways to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles that would have blocked many of us.
More Great Gents
The diversity also includes growing number of men or “Great Gents. attending events
Great Dames has grown beyond Delaware and now has chapters in Philadelphia and Rochester, NY.
Hake sees room for further expansion, but plans to focus on the Mid-Atantic region. She did note that acouple of podcasters in Montana interviewed Hake and expressed an interest in organizing the western state’s first and only Great Dames chapter.