‘Wise Women Working Wonders’

By Kelsey Landis
The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) One group of women in Illinois are joining forces to create a network that will help women succeed in business. The “W” Network hopes to improve access to financing and information so that women have a place to go to give or get advice.


A group of female business leaders met this week to connect, share ideas and empower one another — efforts local businesswomen say are conducive to ensuring women succeed in business.

The “leadership summit” was the premiere event of the “W” Network, a coalition of female business-leaders in southwestern Illinois.

The network’s main goal is to “enlighten, inspire and re-energize strong and bright women with new tools, information and visions,” local small business-owner Sherry Brianza said in a press release last week. Brianza is the president and founder of Brianza Sales and Marketing Inc. and Brianza Bella, LLC.

Brianza heads the networking group along with Silvia Torres Bowman, director of Southern Illinois University’s International Trade Center.

Bowman said the network’s first event was aimed at “getting something started” through “engaging and supporting” businesswomen in the area. Lack of access to financing, information and networks, and harassment and unsafe environments can hold women back in the business world, Bowman said.

The long-time director of the trade center — 18 years and running — opened the summit by asking what chocolate chip cookies, windshield wipers and the synthetic fabric Kevlar have in common.

“They were all invented by women,” responded Monica Bristow, president of the RiverBend Growth Association, who said she attended to connect with other women in business.

The event’s featured speakers were Danna Ellison, district vice president of distribution company Graybar, and Kay Guse, director of program management integration at The Boeing Company. Ellison and Guse talked about facing and overcoming obstacles as they climbed the corporate ladder.

Ellison traveled the world for her previous employer, GE, and said working in an international market helped her learn to do business and communicate with people from different cultures, and helped her “manage fear” and “power through intimidation.”

In making mid-career changes, Ellison urged her peers to consider their interests and values.

“If you’re working for a company, even if you’re incredibly successful, even if you’re on the CEO’s staff, even if you are the CEO, but things aren’t going in the same direction as your values, that’s the right time to move,” Ellison said. “Take risks, have fun and love what you do.”

Guse, the director of program management integration for Boeing, said ambitious businesswomen — and men — should rely on networks and peers for support when they need it, but should not turn networking into “politicking.”

“Stay true to your colleagues and yourself,” Guse said.

She also urged businesswomen to “take chances, make moves and reach out.”

Both women included pictures of family in their slide-shows, and discussed the challenges of raising a family while working in business.

Ellison said it wasn’t easy moving her children from the East Coast to the Midwest when she started working for Graybar, but she took heart in a conversation with her daughter.

“(My daughter) said, ‘What do they make, chocolate bars?’ I said, no, it’s the same industry I’m in today, and I don’t think mommy could make a lot of money in chocolate. And she said, ‘You can if you’re good at it.'”

With that, she put on her pink helmet and went on a bike ride. Ellison said she sat in her kitchen and said to herself, “She’s got it all figured out. If people like it and I’m good at it, we can make money.”

Whether it’s a decision to move family or take a promotion, Guse said it’s a businessperson’s right to “make a decision that suits you.”

“Make the decision to move to something you like to do,” Guse said. “I think it is important to recognize you make a choice sometimes to stop at a certain level because you as a person know that that’s the right level you want to be at, and you’ve shared enough of yourself and enough of your family. And that’s a very hard decision to make, but also a necessary one. I also think that at that point you can rely on your network. Your network is there to help pull you through some of that.”

For more information on The “W” Network, contact Torres Bowman at or 618-650-3851.

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