Articulate May 2018

GAWN Putting Women FIRST

Written By: Rhina Garcia

Their story began in 1981. A group of professional and business-minded women decided to attend a conference held at Santa Fe College with guest speaker Mary Scott Welch. Welch was speaking from her newly-published book, “Networking: The Great New Way for Women to get Ahead,” in which she stressed one of the most important ways for women to thrive in business: by working together. And thus began one of the most comprehensive projects aimed at supporting women in business in the greater Gainesville area.

The Gainesville Area Women’s Network (GAWN) strives to aid women in their business ventures while also providing emotional and relational support for its members. Its mission comes from providing cooperation and community, while also working to create a strong network of business-oriented people that will help others advance in their professional lives.

“[GAWN] has supported me through different career changes and even different personal changes,” said Erin Sapienza, the organization’s current chair. “It’s been a really consistent and strong group of women and I think it’s really good to have that.”

Sapienza, who works as a virtual assistant, has been with the organization for five years, during which she has held three different positions. She states that as a business owner, the support and encouragement provided by the women in GAWN have led her business to thrive.

“When starting out in your own business, sometimes you begin to doubt yourself and it’s really awesome to have that space where you think ‘Wow these people believe in me more than I believe in myself,’” she said.

Membership in GAWN includes monthly luncheons allowing women and men to interact and network with one another, along with invitations to conferences, lectures and showcases. The organization also hosts various socials and workshops with flexible scheduling, allowing women with different availabilities to attend. The members of GAWN also participate in a service project every June.

“We definitely focus on people’s development as a whole and we provide opportunities for people to grow,” said Kristy Moffat, a past chair and current advisor to the organization. “We want to develop a deeper relationship with other female professionals in the community.”

Moffat is the agency owner of Brightway Insurance, The Moffat Agency. She states that her experiences in GAWN have allowed her to grow her professional network, where she has met some remarkable women. She herself has hired two different people that she met at GAWN events.

“The longer I’ve stayed, the more I’ve realized that I have a huge social network that can help in so many ways and I now have lots of different people I can reach out to,” Moffat said. “I just feel so much more connected with the community because I’m so involved in this group.”

Recently, GAWN has increased its member benefits where members are encouraged to bring guests to luncheons and events. As a result, this has helped membership grow, with luncheons averaging about 50 members. GAWN also hopes to encourage younger women and female students to participate, allowing young women who are starting out in their careers the chance to network and build relationships with experienced members.

“We offer a great opportunity for people who are graduating to be able to connect with some powerhouse women who can maybe offer them jobs or internships,” said Patricia Bulko, GAWN’s current vice chair.

Bulko states that while GAWN can provide young professionals with career opportunities, it can also offer the chance to participate in the dialogue surrounding women in the professional world.

“Instead of just reading about the glass ceiling or learning about it from a textbook, you can speak to people who have lived through it,” Bulko said.

The members of GAWN have stated that the collaborative aspects of the organization starts with conversation. GAWN helps provide a local dialogue on issues and aspects that are unique to being a woman. It provides a community that promotes cooperation and support for women in business, a strong network for business contacts and enhances members professional and personal advancement.

As for the future of GAWN, the organization sees itself growing and expanding while maintaining the deep connections that it has built with female professionals around the community. It hopes to attract a diverse array of women who can provide different insights into the professional world, especially young graduates and students who are just starting out in their careers.

“You know that going into a GAWN meeting, you’re going to be loved and going to be supported,” Bulko said. “It’s just a good base for women.”


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RHINA GARCIA is a senior journalism major at the University of Florida who is known for three things: loving coffee, being Hispanic and laughing at her own jokes. Harboring a love for all things entertainment, she hopes to one day work in the music industry as a publicist.

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