Attendees conversed from 5-8 p.m., initially breaking the ice with conversation cards

The sound of conversation and community building permeated the space of First Avenue Coffee on a drizzly Sunday evening where Gonzaga University's Women in Business Club and GU Women’s Network collaborated to hold a women-only networking event.

One of the event coordinators and Gonzaga Women in Business President, Dagny Hadley, said the event provided a supportive and welcoming space for women in a male-dominated industry.

“Women are often held out of spaces where decisions are being made or where opportunities can be found,” Hadley said. “We don’t empower or give confidence to women to go and make opportunities for themselves.”

The collaboration between these two GU organizations was important in mitigating perceived competition and bridging the gap between the groups who have similar missions of empowering women in the workforce, according to Hadley.

While the two organizations are sometimes assumed to be in competition, GU Women's Network President Sarah Mughannam said both organizations work to empower women and the collaboration between the clubs only enables them to better fulfill their missions.

“Both clubs are present on campus to empower women and reassure them that they hold a place in the room while providing them with confidence and professional skills they can utilize when they leave GU,” Mughannam said.

Beyond demonstrating collaboration between the two organizations, the event also bridged the gap between GU and the greater Spokane community.

“[This event] is also bridging the gap with GU faculty and the Spokane community to ensure that GU’s clubs are reaching past Gonzaga,” Hadley said. “We want to continue building those relationships and making an impact — not just in our GU community, but also outside it.”

Bringing in individuals from a variety of organizations, the networking event also hosted female business owners from around the city, GU faculty members and members of Whitworth University’s Whitworth Women in Finance.

The event’s purpose was to both empower women by bringing communities together and to do so in a more casual environment in hopes of alleviating the awkwardness or pressure that can be associated with networking, Hadley said. Hadley and Mughannam attempted to achieve this goal through the structure of the event.

“The first half of the event is more structured because networking can be awkward, especially for people who aren’t used to networking,” Hadley said.

During this part, attendees were given cards with question prompts and encouraged to talk with someone outside of their organization who they might not know. After these initial conversations, attendees could then pursue conversations more organically about any relevant topics.

Another way to make the event more inviting was ensuring that it was held in a safe and inclusive environment. While Mughannam said the open, modern floor plan was perfect for encouraging mingling, Hadley said the purpose of the mission of First Avenue Coffee, a women-owned business, further contributed to creating an atmosphere conducive to stress-free networking.

“Deb, the owner [of First Avenue], has been a rock star in empowering women and making connections with other women business owners,” Hadley said. “It was extremely important that we chose a location that was going to inherently make people feel empowered, hence First Avenue.”

An attendee of the event and member of Gonzaga Women in Business, Saya Betzler, said the structured format of the event and supportive atmosphere mitigated some of the intimidation she used to feel while networking.

“This event was more structured and with some people I already know, so I’ve felt a lot more comfortable,” Betzler said. “A lot of the networking events I’ve gone to in the past have been mostly guys and it can be really intimidating. This has been a really safe environment.”

By providing this supportive environment geared towards women, Mughannam hopes students can realize that networking is not as intimidating as it appears.

“I hope students realize that there’s less pressure behind having a conversation with an elder or someone in our industry,” Mughannam said. “At the end of the day, there’s a human on the other side of that conversation and they want to help you as much as you want their help.”

Mughannam said by realizing networking does not have to be stressful, students can gain confidence and realize they have the skills required to network.

“I hope this event reassures our club members that they already have the skill set to make these connections,” Mughannam said. “They just have to put themselves out there.”

Betzler agreed that having a women-centered event helped to boost her own confidence.

“All of my classes are mostly guys and it can be very intimidating being one of a couple of girls,” Betzler said. “Having these opportunities with other women around me helps me feel a lot more empowered, more confident and like I have a very strong support system.”

Another attendee of the event, Whitworth University student Selma Hanna, said the event helped her build connections and feel inspired.

“I’ve met a lot of amazing people and been able to build my network, which is really important as I’m about to graduate from college,” Hanna said. “Having a lot of women here has been different from past networking events and it’s made a huge difference to be able to inspire one another.”

With the success of the event, Mughannam hopes this type of networking will become an annual tradition.

“We’re hoping this becomes an annual event that will close out the end of the year and give everyone the opportunity to network and make new connections,” Mughannam said.

Clarinne Kirk is a staff writer.