A tool for Issues Management and Member Recruitment
What is a Roundtable?
A roundtable is a special-interest group of BPW members and non-members who meet to pursue their common interests. Roundtables meet in addition to, not as a substitute for, regular BPW meetings.
What is the structure of a Roundtable?
A roundtable is an activity, not an organization. It exists as long as its members remain interested. Its activities should not be governed by formal bylaws, rules, or procedures. It has no officers. Temporary duties can be assigned to members as necessary, and the group may wish to develop simple guidelines for its functioning. Formats for roundtables vary from a single-session meeting to a series of group sessions.
What does a Roundtable do?
Roundtables bring together a group of people who share a common interest and who choose to explore that interest together. A roundtable may evolve into a study group, serve as a networking tool, take on a special project, or just offer a series of discussions about an issue of mutual interest. Some roundtables become a permanent arm of the local BPW organization while other dissolve or move on to other interests after a few meetings.
Roundtables meet before or after work, at lunch, weekend mornings or afternoons — whenever the participants agree to meet. They continue as long as their members choose. The key to the success of roundtables is flexibility – in the focus, the times and places of meeting, the format of meetings, the duties of members, and the length of the life of the roundtable itself.
Who can belong to a Roundtable?
Participation is determined by roundtable members. Roundtables are a BPW activity, but they are also a great recruitment tool. Non-members can be invited as guests or as members of the roundtable, then recruited for BPW membership. A roundtable can also draw on members from more than one local BPW; this will encourage joint projects and networking.
Decisions about who is included will also depend on the focus of the roundtable. A roundtable on local child care options will naturally attract women with young children; job-seekers might be interested in a roundtable to share resumes and discuss job-hunting strategies. A roundtable can be made up of persons with similar occupations (such as accountants) or similar career interests (such as senior managers).
You will find that persons gravitate to the roundtable that focuses on their interests. Restricting the membership is discouraged, except to keep the group to a manageable size. The more open the roundtable is to interested members, the more likely that its vitality will not wane after a few meetings. If you find that the group is losing focus after a while, you might want to split into several more narrowly defined roundtables. Every effort should be made not to exclude participants unnecessarily.
What topics do Roundtables cover?
Participants choose the focus of the roundtable, but BPW/USA encourages topics that relate to the mission statement and objectives of BPW. Issues of importance to working women, such as the Federation Focus issues, are most likely to attract members for BPW and add vitality to the sponsoring BPW organization. Topics you might consider are:
- Women as managers
- Financial planning / investment
- State legislation (especially items on BPW’s legislative platform)
- Reconciling demands of career and family
- Local dependent care options
- Time management
- Career planning
- Preparation for retirement
- Stress management
- Starting a business
- Assertiveness training
- The single parent
- Parenting teenagers
Why are Roundtables valuable to the local BPW?
Roundtables offer the opportunity to “personalize” discussions of issues and pursue individual interests within the diverse membership of a local BPW. The intense discussion of an issue in a roundtable can produce ideas for programs and projects that might not emerge in the regular “program” meeting. Members of roundtables are also able to network in more individualized ways.
Roundtables offer a special chance for personal growth that supplements and enriches the larger BPW experience. They can enhance the strength and stability of the local BPW and attract a wider range of potential members. They can add new energy and ideas to program planning. They allow more flexible scheduling that can keep members in contact with each other and with BPW even at times when they cannot make the regular meetings.
How can my local BPW develop Roundtables?
Roundtables are most successful when they arise out of member interests and are not overly programmed. With very little effort, you may be able to generate a roundtable among local BPW members.
The possibilities of roundtables can be explored at a BPW meeting. Give a brief presentation of the concept, then split up into small groups to generate ideas and discuss issues of interest. Members with similar occupations, career interests, political concerns, or personal lifestyles might find common needs and interests they never mentioned before. To facilitate this process, list suggestions for roundtable topics on a chalkboard or easel. Encourage individuals to move from group to group, seeking out others with mutual interests. Alternatively, you might distribute a questionnaire and read out the results at a meeting, or carry results in the BPW newsletter.
How can the local BPW support Roundtables after they are formed?
You may find that the interest generated at an introductory meeting is sufficient to start some roundtables but that need a little help to keep going. In addition, you want to keep up an interchange between the roundtables and the larger group. The BPW organization should not control the roundtable. However, it can lend support in some or all of the following ways:
- Help ‘match’ individuals with common interests. A networking committee could keep lists of contacts and suggestions for roundtables.
- Help publicize roundtables. Notices of meetings or new topics could be carried in the BPW newsletter. This helps tale the burden off roundtable members, and encourages new people to participate. You might also send notices to other BPW organizations in the area.
- Share ideas. Ask roundtables to update the full BPW membership periodically on what they are doing, to make suggestions for programs or projects, and to share their expertise with the group. An ongoing roundtable indicates a level of interest that should not be ignored.
Encourage roundtables as a strategy to attract new members, or even to form new local BPW organizations. Roundtables offer a way to try out new ideas, roles, structures, and projects. Don’t be afraid to see where they lead — keep experimenting!