Teresa Thomas

Teresa Thomas regularly leads workshops for women seeking to hone their networking skills.

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“What are you most passionate about in your work?”

Teresa Thomas posed the question to a room of around 80 women, gathered for the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce’s women’s networking progressive luncheon on Thursday, March 14.

The event is part of the chamber’s women’s group, founded this year to help women “find the synergy between their personal and professional lives,” according to a news release from the chamber.

Thomas is a networking expert and author of “Win/Win Networking.” She has led nearly 500 workshops on networking, she estimated in a conversation with Eden Prairie News. Her advice to the attendees zeroed in on the challenges that many women in business face and aimed to help them create more authentic connections.

In one exercise, Thomas targeted the difficulty that some women and Midwesterners have with self-promotion.

“Sometimes we have a hard time talking about ourselves,” she said as she instructed the women to go around their tables and share an accomplishment from their professional or personal lives.

“A lot of women network differently than men,” Thomas said as the groups dove into conversation. Women-centered networking tends to be more focused on building relationships rather than a transactional exchange of resources, she said, and these events give women a chance to be heard.

Thomas presented alongside Jacquelyn Fletcher, an author and founder of Heartwood Healing who provided scientific background on advice like “focus on joy” and “mirror others’ posture.” To Fletcher, the value in women-focused events is more than business connections.

Jacquelyn Fletcher

Jacquelyn Fletcher, with mic, bolstered Teresa Thomas’s networking advice with psychological research.

“Every time you do one of these (events), you walk away feeling like you’re a part of something,” Fletcher said. “I strongly believe in the sisterhood ... I wish I’d had someone tell me that you need to make connections for business, but you also just need to make new friends.”

Eden Prairie News asked several of the attendees why they attended the women’s luncheon and what their advice is for future women in business. Here are a few of their responses:

April Greene

April Greene

April Greene

Greene has been with Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a nonprofit that serves and supports people with disabilities, for three years, working to help individuals with disabilities and families find housing and living accommodations.

She joined the Eden Prairie Chamber to get Bethesda’s name into the community, and create connections for herself, personally and professionally, she said. The women’s luncheon is one of her favorite events she’s been to.

“It’s more of an intimate setting,” Greene said. “It gives women a platform to empower themselves.”

To a woman just getting her foot in the door of her career, she advised to “not dwell on the small stuff.”

“Your life is so busy,” Greene said. “If you spend most of your time worrying about the small things, you’re wasting your energy.”

Shonali Harrison Afira Hasan

Shonali Harrison, left, and Afira Hasan.

Shonali Harrison

Harrison is the director of Eden Prairie Montessori’s northern location, on Market Place Drive. She’s been attending chamber events for two years, and the opportunity to connect with Eden Prairie business people about what excites them in their field, and in her own, keeps her coming back.

“For me, it’s been my passion. I am such a big advocate for early childhood education,” Harrison said.

She encouraged other young women to go out and meet people to learn about others’ passions, and their own, to create contacts that might be future business partners.

“It’s who you know,” she said of her own success. “I really promote that, getting to know people.”

Afira Hasan

Hasan is an optometrist who founded Insight Vision Care, an eye clinic on Flying Cloud Drive, in August 2018. She joined the chamber soon after to meet others in the Eden Prairie business community.

Being more independent in her work life was a large factor in Hasan’s choice to open her own practice “The reason I did this was to keep my own schedule,” she said, but she’s not walking her path alone. Her husband’s support has been critical through the process, she said, and she has leaned on her network of professional support as well.

She advised women looking to take the step into entrepreneurship to find a community to lean on, “whether it’s through peers or the business community,” Hasan said.

Krystle Martinez

Krystle Martinez.

Krystle Martinez

March marked the end of Martinez’s first year as an insurance agent with State Farm. The luncheon was her third event with the chamber, and she’d found a community that greeted her with open arms.

“Everyone’s really welcoming,” she said. “Everyone wants to help each other in one way or another.”

Like Redmond, Martinez noted she works in a male-dominated field. Building her network at these women-focused events has introduced her to other female agents and women in similarly male-dominated businesses, she said.

“These are the connections that help you build your business,” she said. “It’s good to empower each other.”

Samantha Redmond

Samantha Redmond.

Samantha Redmond

Redmond is an account executive with CSI Tech Corp, a tech company in Bloomington on the border of Eden Prairie. She joined the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce because it felt like “a good fit” for her company, and for herself.

“I’m in kind of a male-oriented position,” Redmond said. “It’s nice to come into a group of women and be able to tell our stories.”

Her advice to future businesswomen is to “start networking early and often.” Even if a connection doesn’t “cultivate right away,” it can bloom into a partnership later on, she said.

Eden Teller is the multimedia reporter for Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about fostering productive conversations and empowering communities. When she's not reporting, she can be found reading a book, on a hike or tackling home improvement projects.

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