A Conversation with the Founders of the Naomi Dialogues

Criterion| Leadership

A Conversation with the Founders of the Naomi Dialogues

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By Marcie Cheney, Senior Vice President, Business Development Strategy

I recently had the chance to spend an evening listening to an amazing woman tell her story: Peggy Bertaina. Peggy was part of the first class of women graduates of the Air Force Academy and a pilot with United Airlines for 29 years. She spoke on the theme “Breaking Barriers.” You will find a video synopsis of her discussion here.

This event was made possible through a new, local women’s networking organization called the Naomi Dialogues. I wanted to introduce you to the founders, Tonya Klause and Julie Murphy, and share why I think this organization is great for women who are interested in leadership.

First, a little bit about Tonya and Julie. Tonya Klause is the Communications Director, US and Americas Services for Microsoft. Julie Murphy is a Partner and VP of Public Relations at Sage Communications. I met Julie years ago when we were co-chairing the Women in Technology Leadership Awards and have remained friends since then.

Marcie:  What was your inspiration for staring the Naomi Dialogues?

Tonya:  The Washington DC region is filled with the most amazing, ambitious and inspiring women who have  such unique experiences and perspectives to offer.  The Naomi Dialogues is all about bringing together a diverse group of women to gather, connect and learn around meaningful topics — sparking both new friendships and deep outlooks on life.

This idea has been germinating over a year or two. I think I thought of it first at a board meeting for Ten Thousand Villages,  a non-profit fair trade retailer. We have a female CEO, Llenay Ferretti, and I was listening to her talk about work in rural third world countries sourcing products for U.S. retailers. I remember thinking, “I wish I could bring her to my network in DC to tell her story.”

It also got me thinking about how even though we all have busy social lives and friend networks, we are very much in our own little world in many ways in the greater DC/NOVA region.  Wouldn’t it be cool to put together intentional conversations – to hear from women who do interesting work, have diverse stories, or who offer a unique perspective on the world, and who are doing something most of us haven’t done, wouldn’t do, or would like to learn more about?

Julie was one of the first people to whom I floated my idea about a year ago.  She immediately started offering suggestions and ideas about executing on the idea and we decided to form a team.

Julie:  When we started brainstorming on what this idea could look like, we researched salons and forums elsewhere.  For example, we uncovered a podcast on Finding Mastery with Anne Devereaux-Mills.  She is the founder of Parlay House, a salon-style gathering of over 800 Bay-area women who meet to pull each other forward through a combination of shared experiences, meaningful content, and peer-to-peer connections. This was very inspirational!

Tonya:  Julie and I want to create a space to not only help women build their networks but also encourage and learn from others who have very diverse experiences.

Marcie:  Who is Naomi?

Tonya:  Naomi is a beautiful women’s name with interesting meaning on many levels.  First, Naomi was my grandmother, an inspiration to me because she was different at every season of her life.  She wore many hats and, in the mid/late 1900s, embodied the grit, perseverance, smarts, and ambition of a modern woman.  Naomi also represents perseverance, intelligence and grace.  You can read more about it here on our website.  We call each of our featured speakers the “Naomi” of the evening.

Marcie: Would you describe a Naomi Dialogue event?

Julie:  It is a two-hour event, hosted at someone’s home. The first hour consists of networking around hors d’oeurves and wine.  It is fun to meet others from all walks of life.  We have many people who come and know no one else in the room. This is key to our goal of women leaving inspired with new prospective and ideas. The second hour starts with a five-minute overview by the speaker, then a conversation with the audience. We want lots of questions!

Marcie: What makes this organization different from a typical networking group?

Tonya:  How many times have you gone to a typical networking event in the area, and realize you are seeing the same faces yet again? With the Naomi Dialogues, we are aiming at a diversity of audience centered around a unique topic each time. It is not about numbers either. We might have a crowd one evening, and a small group another. Each format offers opportunities, and every event is unique.

Julie:  We do not feature a TED-style monologue, but a true dialogue.  We want to ignite a conversation around a theme but anchored in someone’s experience. Our goal is for people to leave inspired, with new perspectives, and maybe a new friend or two!

Marcie: One point you made struck me Tonya – that you don’t want this to only be stories about achievement. Can you talk a bit about that?

Tonya: Life is a journey. We don’t want to simply feature the achievement, but rather understand how our Naomi navigated difficult as well as happy moments. There will be a lot to learn from that. Hopefully there will be one or two things you can take away and apply to your own life.

Julie: Stories are what connect people. Our members want to be inspired, even if it is difficult to hear the details. I may never make that decision or have courage to do it in the same way as our speaker, but her story can help me rethink how I am going to live my best life.

Marcie: How do you choose themes and find women to share their stories?

Tonya:  We’ve started with people we know through our own network.  We have also published a wish list on our website!

Julie:  I think we all know amazing, inspiring women.  We ask our members for nominations and we intentionally seek out women who we think have important stories to tell.

Marcie:  Thank you for sharing the Naomi Dialogues with us and I hope to see you at the next event!

As a corporate leader, I know how important it is to keep an open mind to new ideas. In the crush of the day-to-day, however, it is easy to fall into usual thought patterns. While it is comforting to interact with your core peers on well-understood subjects, it is important to challenge your thinking and perspectives on a regular basis. I found that the Naomi Dialogues evenings I attended were very helpful in doing so.  I applaud Tonya and Julie for creating such a valuable network and event series.