11: WithIt Grooms the Next Generation of Women Leaders

Written by Rob Stott

March 3, 2020


WithIt Executive Director Amy Van Dorp chats about the group’s mission to help women across various industries develop their business skills — and about their partnership with the WIN: Women in Nationwide network.

Rob Stott: All right, we’re back on the Independent Thinking podcast. Once again, coming to you live from PrimeTime and right now sitting down with Amy Van Dorp, the Executive Director of WithIt. Appreciate you, first of all, taking the time to be here in Houston with Nationwide. I know this is, is this your first time you’ve ever been to a PrimeTime?

Amy Van Dorp: It is my first time at PrimeTime and I’m very excited. It’s been a real learning experience and I’ve really enjoyed it and thank you for the invitation. I appreciate that.

Rob Stott: I will say not a problem, and you’re welcome even though I had nothing to do with that. As a member of Nationwide, I will take the honor and opportunity to say, you’re welcome.

Amy Van Dorp: Well I appreciate the invitation and the opportunity to come and meet.

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely.

Amy Van Dorp: Your members.

Rob Stott: Absolutely. And I know this morning, we’re sitting here, it’s Tuesday, Tuesday of PrimeTime. The show goes by in a blur. You kind of forget what day it is. But before we dive into, I know, WithIt is why we’re here and why we’re talking right now. But I know you were in the room this morning for the Women in Nationwide panel discussion and breakfast and just wanted to get your thoughts and your take on the environment of that room and kind of the discussion that was had in the back and forth between the panel and the Q and A going on and everything. What was that whole experience like for you?

Amy Van Dorp: Well, it wasn’t unusual for me because actually that is very much what WithIt is all about. But I loved hearing the women up there talking about being successful and the challenges that they’ve had and sharing their experiences. And that is what women can get from each other by working together. And not just women but also men. But if you’ve always been in a situation where you’re just looking to men, to have a group of women who are very successful and seeing what can happen is so important. The questions were really energetic as well.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a cool a chance to sort of hear some very in-depth candid at times conversations too about just sort of the career paths of some of the women on the panel and challenges they faced and things like that. And I know it was, I think the second time we’ve run the WIN panel or a WIN event at PrimeTime, so an event that filled the room, packed the room. It’s clear that it resonates and is something that is important to a lot of people. And importantly maybe not just to females. There were a lot of males in the room as well.

Amy Van Dorp: Yes there were. Because it’s important that you have the men in the room also and they can be sponsors and mentors as well. You have to have both to get working together to create a diverse community.

Rob Stott: WithIt, tell us a little bit about it as Executive Director, tell us a little bit about the organization, kind of the history of it, where it was born out of, and what you guys are doing.

Amy Van Dorp: Well, so WithIt has been around for 22 years. It actually started in the furniture industry, a group of women we’re coming together every furniture market because there were not many women there. And so they sort of navigated together and formed a group where they started mentoring each other and helping each other. When they opened it up to a wider group of people, it just became a tidal wave. They had so many women who wanted to be a part of this, that they formed a nonprofit organization. We’ve been around since 1997 and as a formal nonprofit, we work with women, not just in furniture though. We work in accessories, bedding, we work with retailers, we work anywhere where there’s a group of women who really want to come together and learn from each other, network together and learn to be better in business.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And how long have you been involved with the organization?

Amy Van Dorp: I started in 2006 and I was working part-time. I was actually part-time and I’ve been the Executive Director for six years.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. In that time, that’s 14 years involved with WithIt, what are some of the biggest changes and maybe the most important changes that you’ve noticed with the organization?

Amy Van Dorp: Well one of the big ones is that there are so many more women who come to the furniture markets, which was not the way it used to be. We’ve really evolved now to where we’re working a lot on professional development. What we’ve noticed is yes, we have a lot of women coming in, but we don’t have as many women who are leading companies. Whether it’s small companies or large companies. And so what we are really trying to develop skills and help women to be ready for maybe that bigger role, that VP role, maybe even leading the company.

Rob Stott: Is that the biggest hurdle that remains you think for female professionals in these spaces that you’re helping?

Amy Van Dorp: I think it is. And it’s one of the places women get stuck in middle management. They also get relegated a lot to marketing, which isn’t necessarily always the path to being a CEO. You have to have a diverse skill set to make that CEO role. And not all companies are moving their women around. We try to offer some different educational opportunities.

Rob Stott: Clearly, you mentioned education opportunities. What are some of the ways or things, and maybe it’s beyond specifically what WithIt’s doing, what in company culture has to change for that hurdle to be jumped over?

Amy Van Dorp: Well, there are two things that I notice about women, and this is out there in all the leadership space, is that most of the time if you ask a man to take a step up to a job he doesn’t know how to do, he’ll say, “Sure, I can do that.” And immediately jump for it. And a woman will not. Or is not necessarily going to just take that leap. They want to know 100% that they can do that job and do a good job and not fail. What I especially try to tell young women, those coming out of school, students, so what I tell young women who are starting out is when you get those opportunities to take that leap.

Rob Stott: Yeah, that’s an interesting way to think. Is it just different, well I guess maybe that’s getting too much into the psychology of.

Amy Van Dorp: I don’t know why it is exactly. And I don’t know if there’s a skill that men have that makes them immediately say, “Oh, I can do that.” Because I also know men who won’t do that. But I think especially for everyone, you need to push them a little bit. And I don’t think women always get that push. The opportunity comes up and somebody else raises their hand and says, “Hey, I’ll do that.” And maybe the woman needs to think about it. Maybe she has other things going on with her family and she doesn’t raise her hand.

Rob Stott: Interesting segue too because I know something we talked about a little bit before, is that something you kind of keep close to your heart is the work-life balance side of things. You mentioned family and a good opportunity to talk about what are some of the challenges that you see? Or things that you notice from the work-life perspective that you try to focus in on?

Amy Van Dorp: Well there’s a lot of things with work-life balance and the key that women forget or want to ignore is that you cannot have everything all the time. Everything is not always balanced. When I started out as a young professional and when my children came along, I actually took time off from work, started my own business, was doing freelance work. That was how I ended up with WithIt, working for them. Just a way to work around my children’s schedule. As my kids got older, I started working more and it progressed, but it’s hard working at home with children. There’s this stage when you’ve got really young children, you need different things than you need when you’ve got children who are teenagers or even when you have children who are in college and they’ve left home but they still need input. It’s just different life balances and then what happens when your spouse is the one who’s retired and you’re still working? There’s always, it’s always a balance and a challenge and you just take those opportunities, take those challenges as they come, and use your resources.

Rob Stott: And I know a big resource, another kind of segue here is something you guys have coming up. It’s your WithIt professional conference. Tell me a little bit, is this a little bit about the conference itself? The history of the conference and kind of what you guys have planned for 2020 here in June, the middle-end of June. June 24th it starts.

Amy Van Dorp: Yes, so our conference leading with 2020 Vision this year. It is our, we have an annual professional conference and it’s always centered around leadership. It is from June 24th to June 26th in Alexandria, Virginia.

Rob Stott: Former home, by the way. I used to live in Alexandria. Lovely place.

Amy Van Dorp: It’s a great city.

Rob Stott: Right along King Street. Is that where this is going to be?

Amy Van Dorp: It’s a little bit off King Street, but it is.

Rob Stott: Queen or Duke Street? Or am I going the wrong direction?

Amy Van Dorp: Actually it’s right across from the courthouse.

Rob Stott: Oh there you go. Okay yeah, yeah.

Amy Van Dorp: And we, that’s an interesting location, but it’s a great location. It’s very safe, walkable. We really enjoy it. We have a lot of fun. We do a lot of networking things. We have a networking event where last year we all dressed up as different empowered women. We had about 10 Rosie the Riveters come.

Rob Stott: That’s really cool.

Amy Van Dorp: Six Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, an Amelia Earhart.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Amy Van Dorp: Wonder Woman. Just as a way to have people show their personality. A different way to connect with people. Maybe give people, take that inhibition away from networking. It gets a bad rap. People feel very, oh they’re all worried about, how can networking with each other. A good way for people to meet, have some humor. We do a lot of, so our whole program is about professional development and education. We’ll start out with some pre-conference workshops. One of them is how to read financial statements, how to work with the team, and give feedback. For three hours worth of educational time, that’s an important piece. Maybe you are not in a job where you have to work with financials but you enter a meeting and maybe at the next level you need to know how to read those financials.

Rob Stott: And that kind of goes back to your earlier point about being kind of, women traditionally are not pigeonholed, but maybe pushed in a certain direction as opposed to being well rounded in kind of those skillsets. As far as getting to that next level and getting over that hump. Certainly important. I think about the very easy tie in of WIN with WithIt. And so talk about the, just what makes the relationship and the synergies between WithIt and Nationwide something that entices you or excites you?

Amy Van Dorp: Well, when we saw that Nationwide was starting WIN we were like, wow, this is what we do. We need to work with them and let them see what we’re already doing. Because we have been doing this for 20 years. This is exactly what we do all the time. And so it’s a perfect partnership. Instead of your team coming up with a whole conference of content, we have that right there.

Rob Stott: We have one of those.

Amy Van Dorp: Yes.

Rob Stott: I’m sorry, we have two of those a year.

Amy Van Dorp: And we’re all in the home and furnishings industry, so we have similar challenges. We have retailers who come to our conference. They may or may not sell appliances, but we all have similar challenges. We have a corporate member, more corporations and their women come to the conference. They may have slightly different challenges, but we can all work together.

Rob Stott: Slightly devil’s advocate-ish question here. Would you ever want to see the day, and strange to ask, because I know you’re the Executive Director of an organization, but would you ever like to see the day where a WithIt or a WIN is not needed?

Amy Van Dorp: Absolutely. Absolutely. In the end, that’s what we want. We want it to really not matter. There to be gender parody. It’ll happen. It may not happen within this generation, but it will happen. The younger people who are coming along don’t look at it the same way that maybe the people who are baby boomers do, even my generation, which would be Gen X. We look at it slightly differently. Things will change. Yeah. Hey, I’m raising a son who is a feminist. It’s going to change.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Natural progression of generation as in just generational thoughts. You see some of the movements that have happened over the last several years and it’s clear that there’s energy around this sort of stuff. It’s awesome to see that from younger generations. But also that, organizations like yours with WithIt. I did it. The with WithIt.

Amy Van Dorp: You did.

Rob Stott: I did, we did it. But that you guys are able to cultivate that energy and use it and really impact and affect change.

Amy Van Dorp: Correct. And I will tell you, men come to our conference, it’s a great conference. It’s got great information. It can help anyone learn and develop in their skills and in their soft skills, their professional skills, things that maybe they’re not getting at home or in their community. You can learn those at the WithIt conference. We always have gentlemen there, men who are supporters, but also they come because they learn different things. They say that they see a different side of things.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Don’t want to take… I know this, this being your first PrimeTime, make sure you get time on the show floor into the experience and take it all in. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but any parting thoughts for members in Nationwide? Things you want them to know?

Amy Van Dorp: Well, I’d really love you to know that we, our members are very excited to have you come and be a part of this. And we’re very welcoming. The WithIt conference is one of the most energetic events that we put on every year and it’s warm and friendly and very welcoming.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, Amy, I appreciate you taking the time and sitting down with me and chatting. It’s been a blast and I look forward to seeing the growth of WithIt and growth of the partnership between Nationwide and WithIt and what you guys have coming out of your professional conference. Thank you.

Amy Van Dorp: Thank you. Maybe you need to ride on down on the train.

Rob Stott: Hey, come back home. Come visit the old stomping grounds. Awesome. Thank you.

Amy Van Dorp: All right.



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