The phrase “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” was coined by Shakespeare, and even today, the idea that it’s lonely at the top is still being talked about. In a column titled “Why It’s So Lonely at the Top” in The Atlantic, Arthur C. Brooks made the case that CEOs are lonely for a combination of reasons. Their employees see them as authority figures and don’t relate well to them, and those in authority tend to isolate themselves as well.
An April 2020 article by Cate Luzio in Worth magazine states that women CEOs may be the loneliest of all. “Many people say that it is lonely at the top and even lonelier if you are a woman,” she writes.
Enter, the Indianapolis chapter of the Women Presidents Organization (WPO), which addresses the issue as well as much more. Indy Maven has gotten the scoop from WPO members, and they credit their participation with not only helping them to succeed to a greater level than ever before, but also assisting them to cope with loneliness.
Simply to be eligible for membership, the women have achieved to a degree that many only aspire to. Described on the WPO’s website as “the premier membership organization for women leaders of privately-held, multi-million dollar companies,” to qualify for membership, candidates must:
Run their company’s day-to-day management as the CEO/President/Partner; have an ownership interest in the business at some level; and their company must be privately-held and reach $2 million (USD) in gross annual sales for a product-based business or $1 million for a service-based business.
Renee Lucas, co-owner of LCS Heating and Cooling, has been a member for six years. “Loneliness is something that I have struggled with,” Lucas said. “This group helps tremendously. While I have an amazing support system with my family and friends, they don’t always understand the struggles of being a small business owner. Every single person in my WPO gets it, because they experience the same things. This includes the challenges, but also the celebrations! Many business owners hide their successes, in fear of being judged by others. With this group, I feel like I can share anything and everything.”
While helping with loneliness is a crucial benefit of her experience, Lucas mentioned that her affiliation with WPO positively impacts many, if not all, aspects of her career.
“This group of professional women inspires me,” she said. “They push me to face challenges, think outside of the box, and grow, both professionally and personally. Despite being in different industries, many of our challenges are the same. Therefore, I get a lot of value out of experience-sharing. Even if it’s not my issue we’re discussing, I always learn something.”
If the secret to an effective organization is its leadership, the success of WPO in Indianapolis may be, in part, attributed to Kathy Pedrotti Hays, its chapter chair.
“As chapter chair, I am a trained facilitator who guides the group discussion and organizes recruiting, meetings, and planning,” Hays said. “A chapter chair also has to be a business owner. Our chapter is one of over 150 worldwide chapters, all of whom affiliate with the international office.”
Hays continued: “A unique thing about our chapter is that it took three times to actually get a group going in Indianapolis. Similarly sized cities — Columbus, Ohio, for instance — have multiple chapters in one city. As with all of the WPO Chapters, our membership is what makes us unique. No two chapters look alike or are run entirely the same, due to the membership makeup.”
So that members can share openly, there is a strict confidentiality code. Also, there is only one woman allowed in each industry, so there won’t be competition or concern about sharing secrets, either personal or professional.
“As we roundtable ‘real time’ business issues that relate to our members’ businesses, all of our meetings are confidential,” Hays said. “Each member signs a confidentiality agreement and we all abide by this faithfully. When we recruit new members, we invite them to one of our meetings and generally do some sort of case statement discussion so that they get a flavor for the group. Our membership is limited to 20 members who represent different industries.”
Tiffany D. Thompson, president of DaMar Staffing Solutions of Indianapolis, has been a member since 2018.
“I have been able to connect with other like-minded women with similar business experiences and challenges,” Thompson said. “Our Indy group stands strong on supporting one another and propelling each other’s successes.”
When asked whether Thompson had managed any loneliness, in part, through membership in WPO, she shared these insights: “Yes, absolutely, I purchased my business at the age of 28; at that time, I knew I needed to build a network of individuals that could help me along the way. WPO has been part of my recent growth and the ability to have other women experience and share is priceless.”
Lisa Vielee is president of Well Done Marketing, a full-service firm that offers advertising, public relations, web, and digital strategy services. She’s the sole owner, and Well Done Marketing is a certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) in Indianapolis.
Vielee joined WPO in 2021 and has found support within the group; she even hosted the chapter’s annual retreat this year.
“Owning a business can be very lonely, especially if you are a sole owner. There are a lot of decisions to make and so many in our group have already been there and addressed some of what I am facing. Even if I come to a meeting in a funk, I always walk out in a more positive mood with something actionable to try,” Vielee said, adding, “I also have found that the issues I may be facing — COVID-19, the great resignation, equity in the workplace, profitability — aren’t unique to my industry. There is comfort in knowing others are facing and addressing the same kind of things.”
Vielee shared some statistics on what women face in her line of work: “In my industry, only 1% of advertising agencies of any size are owned by women. There are only 3% that are led by female-identifying creative directors. Even if agency owners were willing to share their business tips, there aren’t many who understand my particular challenges as a woman. This group of women has been a godsend.”
Regardless of industry, one thing shines through from each member we connected with: their passion for the group.
Membership 101, if you’re considering joining, or know someone who is:
Lisa Vielee: Women should consider what they want out of a group like this before attending a meeting. If you are looking for networking, this is not the place. Nor is it a substitute for therapy or business coaching. No one in the group expects anyone to bring them business or solve their problems. It is a roundtable experience and a great place to learn.
Renee Lucas: I think it’s helpful to know what you want to gain from the group. Is it to take your business to the next level? Do you need accountability? Is it a time for personal and professional growth, leadership, or reflection? For me personally, I know I have this time every month to do an honest evaluation of where I am professionally and personally. It’s also a time of personal development, as I learn from others and share my experiences to help others. There is a time commitment each month, in which each member’s time, attention, and participation is expected.
Tiffany D. Thompson: [Potential members should] ask themselves a few questions: Can they dedicate the time? Are they seeking out a group of professionals that will give honest and loving feedback in all categories of life? Do they have something to give?
For more information, visit women-presidents.com.
Cathy Shouse is a journalist and romance author. She’s received a 2022 grant and scholarship from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana, respectively. Follow Cathy’s adventures at www.cathyshouse.com
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