IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Forget the golf course: The new way some women execs are tackling the art of the deal

Immersive networking experiences for businesswomen are on the rise. At one recent event, invitations to collaborate, sponsor, and make deals, were casually slipped into conversation during morning hikes, afternoon tea and at the spa. 
“PowerDown2PowerUp" participants started one morning with some energizing breathwork.
“PowerDown2PowerUp" participants started one morning with some energizing breathwork. Patrick Butler

For decades, men have been making business deals and growing their careers outside of the office. Whether it’s on the golf course or at the sports bar, the so-called “boys club” has long given men an advantage in making career-building relationships and collaborations.

In fact, according to a recent study, 70 percent of Fortune 1,000 CEOs said they had done business with someone they met playing golf, a sport that has a dearth of women participants.

Two veteran female executives want to make sure women are not missing out. Their answer? Creating their own version of the golf course.

Stacy Berns, CEO of Berns Communications and founder of The DealmakeHers, a community of female C-suite leaders and investors, and Nancy Berger, former publisher of Hearst Magazines and founder of Start With A Good (___), a company that provides experiential marketing and consulting for businesses, recently teamed up to create a different kind of networking event called “PowerDown2PowerUp.”

The two-night retreat took place earlier this month in a hilly nook of Hudson Valley, New York at wellness resort The Ranch. Over two dozen executive women attended the invite-only retreat, with the goal of deal making and relationship building. Participants included CEOs like Madewell’s Adrienne Lazarus, Commando’s Kerry O’Brien, and PetMeds’ Sandra Campos, in addition to prominent investors, founders, and executives in tech, retail, and beauty.

“PowerDown2PowerUp" attendees after a hike at The Ranch Hudson Valley.
“PowerDown2PowerUp" attendees after a hike at The Ranch Hudson Valley. Melissa Gonzalez

The itinerary was filled with everything from morning hikes, group meditations, and guest speakers. Participants  heard from “The Office” actress Melora Hardin at a fireside chat and author and former chief editor of USA Today, Joanne Lipman, about the power of “aha moments.” Keri Glassman, founder of the Nutritious Life, spoke to the group about wellness and nutrition, while Tai Beauchamp, co-founder of Brown Girl Jane,  chatted about the importance of mindfulness. 

“It’s not public just yet, but I’m looking for someone to run our marketing team,” one retail executive at the event whispered to a few women waiting in line for mini facials. “I’ve got just the woman for you,” responded another executive in line behind her.

After a hike later in the day, attendees started shooting off resume highlights of women they believed would be perfect for the soon-to-be open role.

The next few days would be filled with moments like these. Invitations to collaborate, sponsor, and make deals, were casually slipped into conversation during morning hikes, breakfast, breaks by the outside lounge chairs and afternoon tea.

Dafna Mizrahi, owner of Curamia Tequila, was one of the attendees. Over dinner, she gave the group a tequila tasting while she shared her founder story and company elevator pitch. “Large restaurant groups and corporations, still dominated by men, often overlook brands like Curamia, that are female founded and are not celebrity driven. The industry is still a guy’s club,” shared Mizrahi, who is Mexican and grew up near the town where she harvests her own clean and sustainable tequila.

By the end of dinner, her table mate — a tech executive and investor — turned to her and said, “Are you raising capital? Because I want in.”

Lipman, who also went as an attendee, said these types of wellness and discovery-centered retreats can supercharge business collaborations. 

“The beauty of the retreat is that it didn’t have a business purpose per se…The setting stripped away the professional armor so many women wear,” said Lipman, author of “NEXT! The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work.” “You can’t put on any pretense when you’re sweating during a hike, trying out a new yoga pose, or attending a party in your pajamas! And that allowed conversations to roam freely between the professional and the personal, and allowed ideas to freely percolate, which all of these women will now take back to their own businesses.”

A pajama party was hosted by Skin Worldwide at The Ranch Hudson Valley.
A pajama party was hosted by Skin Worldwide at The Ranch Hudson Valley. Nicole Burns

Lipman also noted that there has been a key difference in how women are connecting to each other when it comes to dealmaking and networking.

“Researchers have found that women tend to be more collaborative than men in the workplace. That quality is supercharged in a retreat, when people are stripped down to their authentic selves … I don’t see that same level of trust, authenticity and ease among male executives, for whom competition and one-ups-manship often gets in the way of productive collaboration.”

Berger shared that in some ways the retreat is the antithesis of a traditional networking event and that is exactly why it’s key to building stronger business connections. “It’s being able to bring your authentic self. These relationships are built on no makeup and frizzy hair.”

By the end of the event, many of the women — who noted they were often one of the few women in their boardrooms — said they experienced community in ways they hadn’t before. Wendy Charland, co-founder and chief operating officer of personal care brand WYOS shared, “As a founder I feel like I always have to be ‘on.’ This opportunity to connect authentically with other executives allowed me to finally turn off, feeling supported and understood.”

Immersive networking experiences for businesswomen are on the rise. Berger, who created the buzzy Marie Claire Power Trip in 2016 knew she was on to something when the tentpole event was featured and hailed as a premier networking event for women in the movie, “Mack and Rita” starring Diane Keaton

“We launched a new genre of connecting high powered women to build personal and business long term relationships. It morphed over time to different types of experiences that incorporated wellness and retreats. At the end of the day, it was all about helping women make strong connections,” said Berger.

Events like the Forbes and Know Your Value’s 30/50 Summit also bring together women for mentorship and dealmaking opportunities for a four-day conference in Abu Dhabi every year. Berns and Berger said they plan to do another “PowerDown2PowerUp,” event next year, though details of when and where have not yet been confirmed.

Turning ‘off,’ it turns out, can be a business advantage Burns explained, “It changes the way relationships are being made, because you’re in your yoga pants and a tank top doing yoga with a certain CFO, CMO, or CEO, and now when I reach out to them for anything, we have a much different relationship than we did before we were in that environment. That’s the difference.”