For the past four decades, Professional Women’s Network — PWN — has been helping empower professional women in Eastern Iowa.
PWN is a professional organization giving women the opportunity to network, develop their professional skills and build new friendships and connections.
In 1979, the network was formed by three women — Jean Kruse, Liz Sparks and Carolyn Stephens.
“My motivating theory was that if we had examples of successful business women and really came to know other women who were interested in getting ahead in the business world, we could begin to understand that helping other women would result in our own advancement — women helping women,” Kruse said. “A negative attitude would keep all of us back.”
After a series of breakfast meetings and brainstorming sessions, Kruse and the other founders sent a mailer announcing the first meeting of PWN in September 1979. They received a very positive response from women in the community. The idea of such a network was welcomed with open arms.
“I think each woman on our mailing list was asked to send a check for $15 for dues. We had such a favorable response to this first request for members that it was unbelievable,” Kruse said. “Before they had even attended a meeting, many sent me their check even though they could not attend. They said to keep up the good work.”
Over the years, more women joined. Today, the network boasts a large membership of 70 women from a variety of professional backgrounds.
As the workplace has evolved over the past 40 years, so, too, has the organization — though PWN never strayed from its motto of “Strengthening Professions, Developing Networks, Exchanging Knowledge,” while honoring its tradition of “Women Helping Women.”
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“We, the founders, only had the idea for starting PWN. Others have taken over and improved it so much,” Kruse said. “I am very impressed with the progress these other very committed women have made to make PWN a recognized name and a respected organization in the community.
“Women should join other civic organizations, but we must also continue to realize the importance of networking with women.”
Kara Patton, the current PWN president, is passionate about sharing the positive impact the network has had on many women’s lives.
“We’ve been a stable, affordable and inclusive organization. We’ve put our members first and kept the passion to help women grow,” she said. “Women are more successful because of this organization and because of each other. PWN is proud of our diverse membership — the strength of PWN is in our diversity of talents and interests more than our similarities.” All women in the area are welcome to join PWN.
Members’ professions cover a wide range of industries and job titles, including health care workers, attorneys, project managers, entrepreneurs, receptionists, real estate agents, students and retirees — just to name a few.
Monthly luncheons includes a keynote speaker and time to network. Recent meeting topics have included human trafficking, how to manage over-functioning and chaos, and how to rewire your brain for happiness. Group outings are also held for women looking to network socially and enjoy a night out.
PWN also works to help the next generation of professional women.
“The most important way we serve our community is through the Scholarship Foundation,” Patton said. “Every year, we provide financial support to non-traditional women students.
“In addition, our members provide encouragement and emotional support. We’ve given countless scholarships, brought women together to support each other emotionally, mentally and professionally, and given some unique growth opportunities to our members.”
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This month, PWN is celebrating its 40th anniversary by hosting a Sept. 26 breakfast event — “A Celebration of Women Helping Women” — at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids. Michelle Niermann, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, will speak, and the 2019-2020 PWN Scholarship Foundation recipients will be recognized. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $40 and available at pwnia.org.
In addition to acknowledging a successful past, PWN members are eager to continue making a positive impact on the future for the next 40 years — and beyond. “We’d like to continue growing in the Corridor, continue to reinvent the wheel to keep our members engaged and growing,” Patton said.
For Kruse, it’s been a thrill to be part of something that has helped so many — and will continue to inspire women for years to come.
“Women now realize that they are important to the community,” she said, “and they each want to help other women succeed.”
To learn more about Professional Women’s Network and the work its members do in Eastern Iowa, visit pwnia.org.