Here’s how word of mouth works with a good idea: Nearly 100 women signed up for the Doyenne’s February pop-up co-working event, up from 70 attendees in January. In December, when the program was new and untried, total attendance was 12.
That’s an increase of almost 900 percent in two months.
The Doyenne is the brainchild of St. Petersburg businesswomen Maghan Morin and Jeanine Suah, who saw a void – the lack of a workspace solely for women in business – and, in true entrepreneurial style, set out to fill it.
“We have professional resource developers all over this area,” points out Suah, who also owns and operates Organiza Systems, providing system implementation and content writing for small to medium businesses. “We have co-working incubators all over this area, but there’s no safe space for women to feel like they can be themselves without being dominated by a lot of males in the tech industry.”
The Doyenne (the word means, essentially, a woman at the top of her game) “provides them with those things at the same time, and in addition to that, community and camaraderie amongst women,” she says.
She and Morin, a social media marketing professional (her company is MRKT Reach), first hatched the idea in one of a series of less-than-comfortable coffee shops: A combined professional development platform and co-working space designed specifically for women.
“As entrepreneurs,” Morin says, “when we connect with someone it’s typically a male. And then that person connects us to another male. Then another male, and another male. It’s very hard to find a woman in a position of power to get connected to, to provide mentorships that are looking to get to where they are, and not being outsourced to a man that won’t understand their struggles climbing up the ladder. It’s very important that women that are looking to be successful – in whatever they do – have a group to come to, to find that.”
There were precedents, including The Wing, a successful Manhattan “woman’s club” that has expanded to other cities, but Morin and Suah discovered it’s as much of a social hub as a working center.
Nothing wrong with that, but they wanted – at least in the embryonic days of the Doyenne – to make it strictly about networking. And building business relationships.
“We’d started to realize what the places we were working in lacked,” Morin explains. “And we thought, St. Pete needs this.”
Adds Suah: “We were like ‘What if we made a space where women like us could go and get help for their businesses, but also get the emotional support that we offer each other?’”
They believe the Doyenne is the only platform of its kind in Florida.
They created a business plan, revised it, incorporated, raised a little capital and rented an office.
Word of mouth – and the women’s never-ending hustle – did the rest.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women own close to 10 million businesses in America, accounting for $1.4 trillion in receipts. And nearly 50 percent of working people are women.
It may not be a “man’s world” any more, but with the prevalence of deeply-ingrained misogyny and sexual harassment in the American workplace, it only makes sense that women might benefit from a professional, all-female environment. Free of stress.
Stress, of course, takes many forms. “There were times when I was working at home for a week straight, and I didn’t see anybody,” says Suah. “And it was devastating. Because while I’m the type of person who absolutely needs to be in a focused environment, I need that communication and interaction with people. If I don’t get it, I’m not productive any more.”
Because the Doyenne doesn’t yet have a full-time workspace of its own, the “pop-up” work days take place in different venues. The next event is March 7 at the Kaizen Collaborative in Tampa; on April 4 they’ll be at IL Ritorno in St. Pete.
“Our goal,” Morin explains, “is to create a community, and a center for business development resources and programs – providing our members with our expanded network of all these amazing professionals in these different industries, so that they can get the resources they need to succeed and move forward.”
Networking, of course, is key, whether you’re looking for a consultant, a partner or a mentor. “I know they say ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’” Suah says. “It’s a little bit of both, because if you can’t demonstrate what you know to who you know, then it doesn’t matter!”
Registration for Doyenne events – which always include coffee in the morning, lunch in the afternoon and plenty of time to work, talk and forge new relationships – is done through EventBrite. Memberships are available. Morin and Suah also suggest investigating their website, and their Facebook page, for the latest information on pop-ups and planned special events.
They have big plans for the future, including self-care areas for stress reduction and more efficient time-management. One day, the Doyenne will feature chair massages, nail salons, showers and maybe even yoga centers.
For now, it’s one step at a time. They’re enjoying things the way they are.
“To see all these women come together, and to be the facilitator behind it, is beyond words,” Suah says. “It fulfills us, because we’re helping them. And from there, they’ll help somebody else. That’s a phenomenal feeling.”
Read The Hustle with the Doyenne here.