In networking, there’s nothing like a Dame

Feature Dames Of Madison Panel
Ashley Quinto Powell and Meghan Conter, founder of the Dames. Photo by Amy Lawson

Business consultant Ashley Quinto Powell wasn’t looking to add anything else to her plate, but when she heard of a powerhouse women’s group called The Dames, she had to at least explore whether her appetite for networking was fully satisfied.

After a little research and a trip to Denver to meet the founder, she decided to add another helping, and nothing about her experience as the head of the Madison and Chicago chapters of the Dames has caused her any indigestion. Even COVID-19, which has confined networkers to virtual meetings, has been an appetizing excuse to build the local group after its initial, face-to-face gathering in February.

Not to be confused with the Brauds, another group comprised of influential businesswomen, the Dames represent a real power play. Members must own or lead a rapidly growing six or seven-figure business or nonprofit and have a C-level, VP-level, or director-level title, especially if their ultimate ambition is to get their business to the million-dollar mark and beyond.

With programming variety that includes comedy nights, next-level growth sessions, virtual happy hours to fight that lonely-at-the-top feeling, and a digital learning library that provides access to high-level business guidance, the Dames are more of an exclusive group. They share their struggles and their triumphs but mostly they share the conviction that successful business leadership doesn’t have to be applied in a constant pressure cooker.

“The idea is that it’s very lonely at the top, and it’s supposed to be fun,” states Quinto Powell, who owns her own revenue-generation consultancy, Ashley Powell Consulting.

Dame County

The group boasts chapters in Denver, where it all began with founder Meghann Conter, plus Northern Colorado, Orange County, California, Phoenix-Scottsdale, Arizona, and, thanks to Quinto Powell, Madison and Chicago. Fortunately, the national Dames had gone digital long before COVID-19 rendered face-to-face networking impractical. Online events occur on a weekly basis and virtual memberships are available to any qualified businesswoman that lives more than 75 miles away from a local chapter. So, after an initial get-together in February at the Madison Club, the local chapter continued to meet by leveraging video conferencing tools (Zoom being the Dames’ tool of choice).

Quinto Powell, who formerly worked as business development manager at Bendyworks in Madison, heard about the Dames in Chicago, where she has personal and professional ties, when an acquaintance told her that she “had to talk to this woman in Denver.” She must have made quite an impression because that woman, Conter, told Ashley that she’d be an ideal person to open both a Chicago and a Madison chapter of the Dames.

The Dames’ first Madison event in February, just before COVID-19 became a pandemic, was attended by 80 women, and is considered the biggest launch in the group’s history. It has been sustained virtually with plans for a resumption of in-person gatherings once it’s deemed safe to do so.

The initial event was sponsored by Thrivent Financial and the group is working with the Madison Club and UnityPoint Health’s Meriter Foundation to provide child care, at no cost to members, at future in-person events. In the meantime, the local Dames have been taking advantage of the national group’s virtual meetings that provide access to training and networking, including a virtual event for all chapters.

So far, the Madison chapter has grown to about 20 members, and virtual tools have prevented a stilted beginning. “The big advantage to having been forced to do virtual events is that we get to be really creative in how we replicate the opportunities to network in person,” Quinto Powell explains. “Of course, if you hop on a Zoom, it’s much, much different and even more different if you have hundreds of people because instead of hopping on a Zoom, you’re really hopping on a Zoom webinar. To the credit of the national chapter, they have really done some creative things, including experiments like hooking up Facebook groups for networking.”

Some of the Madison Dames have been recruited from the local Bossy Moms Group — so called because Boss Moms was already taken and trademarked. Bossy is a 600-strong, entrepreneurial networking group of businesswomen who are trying to forge their careers while raising children. Quinto Powell founded Bossy, which is comprised of Madison-area residents. “Girls are often told that they are bossy instead of leaders,” she explains, “and so I wanted to reclaim that.”

Braud fanbase

Before launching the Madison chapter of the Dames, Quinto Powell paid a courtesy call to Madison businesswoman Joanna Burish, who founded the Brauds. No real Dame wants to step on anyone’s networking shoes, and Quinto Powell was ecstatic when Burish signaled her support.

“I reached out to Joanna because the Dames have a name that’s similar to the Brauds and told her that if I could change it, I would,” Quinto Powell says. “I explained how we really weren’t the same kind of organization. The Brauds are a mastermind group and it’s meant to have selected, very deep friendships, while the Dames are a networking organization. It’s less about deep friendships than getting to know other people at your level.”

As it turned out, Burish was more than OK with that and now counts herself as a member of both the Brauds and the Dames. Burish, who has used virtual tools to expand the Brauds network nationally, recalls her amusement when she first heard about a group calling itself the Dames, but she doesn’t view the Dames as competition. “They are synergistic with the Brauds,” she says. “Our mission is more mastermind — deep dives — so we’re not going to grow at their rate. It’s a different kind of a brand.”

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