Women in transition find advice, camaraderie at chamber event

This article appeared on phillyburbs.com.

Margaret Thompson drove all the way to Doylestown from Swarthmore Tuesday to seek support and inspiration.

She said she found it, in the form of the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business Committee.

The committee on Tuesday hosted the first installment of its Women’s Empowerment Series, a seminar series designed to help women facing major changes in their lives and careers. The event drew about a dozen women, many of whom, like Thompson, were facing personal or professional challenges.

“We hope to provide real advice to solve real problems,” said committee member Karen Lasorda, senior vice president for Bucks County Bank. The second event in the free series is set for April.

On Tuesday, speakers Mindey Elgart, Kim Arnold and Lucy Steitz aimed to prepare women to achieve financial independence in the face of divorce or to re-enter the workforce after being out of it for a period.

Elgart, a New Hope attorney who specializes in divorce mediation, said women need to have a hand in the family’s finances if they don’t already do so. They should look at bank statements, credit card statements and pay stubs, and know about retirement and brokerage accounts.

“Very frequently what I hear from women is, ‘I had no idea about the finances. My husband handles it,’ ” Elgart said. “The second thing I hear is, ‘The reason we’re in this mess is because he did it.’ ”

Steitz, a certified financial planner with CoreStates Capital Advisors, said it’s critical that women keep up with financial information and planning to ensure their independence.

“Women face unique challenges when it comes to financial planning,” Steitz said, noting that women typically earn less and live longer than men.

Arnold said she faced her own transition after being unemployed for nine months. It was overwhelming, and at times depressing, but she persevered and now is a vice president of Fulton Bank in Doylestown.

“The first step is simply, don’t panic,” Arnold said. “If you panic, it becomes overwhelming. And if it becomes overwhelming, everything you do will be with despair.”

Stay-at-home moms and other women who have been out of the workplace for a long period of time still have skills — like time management, project management and leadership — that employers are looking for, the speakers said.

Thompson, who was urged to attend the event by a friend, said she felt inspired by the speakers. She’s facing a divorce and the need to return to the workforce after staying at home with her children.

“It can be daunting,” she said. “But every step along the way is growth.”