Networking program targets mid career female managers

Portland mayor-elect Ted Wheeler made news this week calling for more diversity in corporate boardrooms. It was the latest salvo in the battle to create more diverse and inclusive communities and workplaces.

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His remarks also indirectly called attention to a female demographic that often gets lost in discussions of diversity: the mid career market manager. Many of the women’s networking and professional development events in town cater to young service professionals, says Karen Vineyard, market president for Wells Fargo’s Northwest regional commercial banking office.Unknown

Women who hold more senior positions and who work in non service related fields don’t always find these programs comfortable or relevant, Vineyard said, citing her own experience as an example. “I’m looking for peers, something a little more senior.”

I met Vineyard for coffee at Case Study earlier this week to talk about a couple of programs she is involved with aimed at encouraging the recruitment, career development and retention of women leaders in Portland. One is the Women’s Leadership Alliance, an informal affiliation which provides an (invitation only) network for Portland area women executives working for larger businesses.


The precursor to the Alliance was a networking group Wells Fargo started a couple of years ago for bankers and their clients; I attended the kickoff event for that program when I was writing this article on Schnitzer Steel CEO Tamara Lundgren (Lundgren delivered a keynote address during the dinner). I joined a group of thoughtful, interesting mid-career women working in a broad spectrum of industries, including manufacturing, wholesale, retail, distribution and construction.

That event was so succeessful Vineyard and several other executives decided to broaden the scope to the Alliance, which held its inagural event in February.*

Now the Alliance is about to launch a new cross-community mentorship program pairing senior level women mentors with mid-career professional women mentees who are already in a management role or have been identified for leadership development within their own organizations. 

Vineyard said they have 12 mentors lined up — including Wendy Collie, CEO of New Seasons and Terri Oen, tax partner at KPMG. The group will be meeting with prospective mentees next week. “We’re reaching out to our client base asking: ‘Do you have mid level managers in your company with leadership potential?’” Vineyard says.

A subset of women leaders have assumed control of a business after their husbands died, Vineyard said.  Mentorship can help women in this position grow into their roles.

Diversity initiatives help bring potential leaders out of the shadows so they can eventually drive policy and business conversations forward.  To use today’s vernacular, the Women’s Leadership Alliance is a business incubator — the kind that will be critical if Oregon is serious about boosting the number of female board members and C-suite executives.

* Here are the founding members of the Women’s Leadership Alliance 

Terri Oen, Tax Partner in Charge, KPMG

Shiau Yen Chin-Dennis, Partner at K&L Gates

Michelle Lantow, CAO New Seasons Market

Deanne Preston, Corporate Outreach, Portland State University Graduate School of Business

Dawn Moore, SVP & Senior Relationship Manager, Wells Fargo

Linda Kaahanui, Manager Wells Fargo Insurance Services