On a Friday morning in July, a small group of women gathered in Baton Rouge to talk about professional development over cups of lattes, forming the inaugural Leadership & Lattes event, spearheaded by Dima Ghawi.
In the four months since, that small group has snowballed into a much larger—and still growing—community of women, and a handful of men, seeking business and career advancement skills in the Capital City.
“It’s actually amazing because we started with 40 in July, and now we have 110 women,” says Ghawi, a motivational speaker, leadership coach and former IBM talent development manager. “We have a waiting list. There’s a lot of demand and value in it.”
This morning, more than 100 women—including Mayor Sharon Weston Broome—and one man gathered at the Baton Rouge Marriott for the fourth Leadership & Lattes event. Each monthly session centers on a different professional development topic. Today’s focus was on networking. It was the first time Broome attended the event.
“Women’s advancement is a part of my agenda as mayor,” she says. “I’ve heard great reports about this and had to come see it myself.”
Ghawi leads the discussion, opens the floor for comments, divides up attendees into groups and allocates time at the beginning and end of the event for networking. This has long been a goal for Ghawi, who hopes the event can fill a void in the city.
“I saw a gap in professional development for women in Baton Rouge,” she says. “So I decided to create a group that addresses the skills, networking and motivation for women to advance.”
The event has cast a diverse and wide-ranging net. Those who attended this morning work at LSU, Kean Miller, IberiaBank, state and local agencies, hospitals and several other companies and nonprofits.
“It’s inspiring to see so many women in their careers coming to learn skills they need to advance in their careers,” says Yvonne Jackson, a branch manager at IberiaBank. “Every town needs something like this.”
Yet it seems many surrounding communities don’t have something like this. Women are coming from as far as Hammond, Lafayette and Monroe to attend Leadership & Lattes, Ghawi says.
The event focuses on just one topic, and it’s held once a month so women can make connections and relationships with one another, says Lindsey Litchfield, who works in marketing at Whole Foods, which is a sponsor.
“It’s one topic per month so you go forth and prosper with that one thing,” she says. “You can work on changing one thing in 30 days.”
Alejandra Juan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, has been coming to Leadership & Lattes since the beginning. She says the events offer practical advice, such as how to best use a LinkedIn account and what apps can enhance professional development skills.
The lone man who attended this morning’s event was Dave Baxter, director of strategic alliances at Sparkhound in Baton Rouge. It was his first time, but he’s friends with Ghawi and heard rave reviews about her new venture.
“I’ve seen the success of this, and I wanted to come and support it,” Baxter says. “I also want to encourage others from my company to come.”
—Annie Ourso Landry