Professional discrimination against women, despite intelligence and talent, is not just the stuff of TV shows like Mad Men - Waterford resident Mildred Devine lived it.
In the 1970s Devine, who was involved in estate planning and trust writing for a local bank, said she was prohibited from joining social clubs like the Thames Club, the Hartford Club, etc, and therefore had few opportunities to grow her client base or talk with peers.
Devine was a good sport when her boss left the office for lunch meetings with clients and to meet colleagues at the Thames Club but one day he teased her one time too many.
“That got my Irish up,” she said to a room full of women at the latest meeting of the Southeast Connecticut Women’s Network, after one of his jibes. “I said I didn’t want to join the Thames Club, I wanted something better than that.”
Devine’s boss said if that’s what she wants, she’d have to form a club of her own and today, nearly 170 southeastern Connecticut businesswomen are glad she did.
Wednesday’s regular meeting of the SECT Women’s Network was held in honor of past presidents and Mildred “Millie” Devine, founder of the club, was the guest speaker.
The room was filled with ambitious businesswomen, who thought of each other as friends, and who would not even know each other if Devine’s “Irish” had not been raised some 35 years ago.
The women’s group, which is 160 women strong, is much like a chamber of commerce where networking is the name of the game. Members go there to grow their business, get support from other members and also take advantage of professional and personal growth opportunities offered by other members.
Christy Pyatt, a division leader for Primerica, has been a member of the women’s group for about a year.
“I’ve taken workshops and have become more flexible and adaptable both personally and professionally,” Pyatt said. “I have friends at work but there it’s all about business, here it’s all about your business as a part of your life.”
The group meets on the third Wednesday of every month at the Groton Inn and Suites for a buffet lunch. There is usually a speaker scheduled and there is time for networking with the membership, which is comprised of financial professionals, healers, artists, lawyers, educators, sales people, real estate brokers, etc. They also meet after hours once a month.
Devine is called “mom” by many of the group’s members and, as founder of the group, the title fit. However, the last segment of her speech to a room full of successful businesswomen illuminated her own interpretation of the title.
“I’m proud of my 35-year-old baby,” said Devine of the networking organization, which has quadrupled in size since 1978.
And what advice does Devine have for women today?
“Network, network, network.”