BATH — 2018 is definitely shaping up to be a strong year for strong women. Political pundits are saying that more women are running for public office this year across the board than there have been in decades.

The business landscape is also experiencing change as well, including here in the Midcoast. In response, the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber is reaching out to its membership to help them connect with each other in a newly formed group.

The kick off event for WILL Power — which refers to Women In Local Leadership — will be Wednesday, April 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.

A “Champion’s Panel” will include Lois Skillings, president and CEO of Midcoast-Parkview Health; Betsy Biemann, CEO of Coastal Enterprises Inc., in Brunswick; and Meredith Strang Burgess, CEO of Burgess Advertising in Falmouth.

Linda MacMillan was tasked with helping WILL Power get off the ground.

“This provides a new forum for new and existing members to meet and discuss ideas and issues they encounter in their businesses and nonprofit endeavors, and to hear success stories from other business leaders,” she said.

A recent poll of members helped plant the seed to create this event with three women on center stage.

“Our three speakers are CEOs representing unique Maine organizations that are highly successful and important to our communities and the state,” said MacMillan. “We are very fortunate to get them all in the same room at the same time!”

Following a luncheon in the museum’s Long Reach Hall, it’s down to business with the three leaders in their fields. Besides hearing good advice from women who have been there and done that, attendees will have the opportunity to ask their own questions of the panel.

“We’ll have one (Lois Skillings) who is running a hospital, Meredith has been a legislator and runs her own firm; and I’m running a nonprofit organization that invests in small businesses,” said CEI’s Biemann. “I think all of us are involved in private as well as nonprofit or public roles.”

“There’s going to be a lot of good takeaways,” said Burgess, “from three women from very different backgrounds who will talk about leadership, what it means to them, and advice on others coming behind us.”

Burgess started Burgess Advertising with three friends when she was 29, and 31 years later, the business is still going strong. In addition, she served six years as a state legislator while still running her business.

“Women are great at this stuff … it’s called ‘multi-tasking’ and ‘connections.’ We do them in spades,” she finished, laughing. “If you want something done, ask a busy woman!”

Coastal Enterprises Inc. is a community development investor, investing in small Maine businesses which sometimes are started by people who haven’t had or haven’t run a business before. Biemann has a strong background in philanthropy and other nonprofits that helped small businesses with a public purpose.

“I think women have always been interested in starting companies,” she said. “Sometimes they haven’t had a choice.”

Biemann pointed out how some realize their strengths are not being fully recognized or used in the corporate context, and decide to leave and start their own business.

Both Biemann and Burgess agree one hurdle some women face is just finding and getting used to the sound of their own voice in a leadership role.

“I’d call it a challenge,” said Burgess. “It’s the vision/self-confidence to achieve whatever it is they feel they want.”
Both women also agree it’s never too late to try.

“There’s a lot of mythology in today’s world that all entrepreneurs are 24 and become billionaires,” said Biemann.

“There are real benefits to starting a business when you’re not very young … there are, I think, wisdom or battle scars that can help you perhaps handle difficult situations perhaps with a little more objectivity.”

Burgess agreed the program on the 18th is going to be for women of any age. “I hope that we are inspiring as well as educational for the attendees.”

“I think women today are recognizing there’s a need for women leadership in all those spheres,” Biemann said. “So, it will be a conversation about that.”

To join the conversation, visit www.midcoastmaine.com or contact the Chamber office at 725-8797. The charge is $28, which includes a buffet lunch from Mae’s Café in Bath.