NORTH CANTON  Four times a year, the North Canton Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Conversation Luncheon series focuses on topics related to sports, women’s issues, education, and a "wild card" topic, chamber President Doug Lane said.

The most recent gathering, held Sept. 14 at Walsh University, featured a familiar face to chamber members - three-time Quarterly Conversation speaker, author and executive strategist, JJ DiGeronimo.

Businesswoman’s perspective

Cleveland native DiGeronimo parlayed her 20 years of experience in high tech - from entry-level technology positions to leadership positions within Silicon Valley-based technology companies – to found Purposeful Woman and Tech Savvy Women, organizations catering to professional businesswomen, and author two books on women in leadership roles within in the tech world.

The most recent, Accelerate Your Impact, explores the ways many women, largely by virtue of a get-it-done-for-the-team attitude, leave leadership opportunities on the table.  Or, more specifically, simply never think to ask for them in the first place.

The book, and DiGeronimo’s Quarterly Conversation talk, offered both broad observations and practical rubber-hits-the-road advice that both women and men could take to heart - and back to the boardroom.

DiGeronimo discussed being specific about how to spend time; putting tasks not relevant to long-range goals to the side; examining what a person’s impact and influence on their job currently is – and what they should do to make it what they want it to be; how people set up "self-imposed barriers" to their success; and the benefits of – and differences between – coaches, mentors and sponsors.

"When you ask someone, ‘what do you do?’ usually you get a job title," DiGeronimo said. "Career coaches can help pull out your potential and get crystal clear on your story, but it is hard for them to help you if you don’t know where you are going. So many times I hear people say ‘I’ve got to change jobs, but I don’t know what I want to do.’ And when I say ‘when?’ they say, ‘well now.’ It takes a lot more time and planning than that."

Practical differences

Without bashing one or the other, DiGeronimo also outlined the practical differences between men and women in terms of how they are perceived by others - and perceive themselves - particularly when it comes to climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.

In short, she said, women could do a better job at both self-promotion and self-examination.

"Men do a good job of networking outside the office, while women do a good job of networking among their peers," DiGeronimo said. "You can’t get bogged down in the networking, but rather say, ‘where do I want to be impactful and an influence in the next 10 to 12 years and does my network help me get there?' Often you have to stretch yourself when others don’t already see you in that light."

Weighing in locally

Following DiGeronimo’s talk - and Lane’s presentation of a North Canton-centric goodie bag and naming DiGeronimo an "honorary" chamber member due to her numerous appearances – Lane discussed how the luncheons benefit not only chamber members but the whole community.

"There are so many organizations that focus on personal development and this gives us the ability to see what trends are out there," he said of the series, now in its fourth season. "And the public is welcome, which is important when you are a community focused chamber like we are."

That attention to community development within the borders of North Canton – from businesses, to the city administration, school district, YMCA, and Walsh – has positioned its members quite favorably, Lane said.

For instance, he does not expect the North Canton Chamber to have to consider merging with other area chambers, such as the recent collaboration between the Jackson-Belden and Canton chambers, anytime in the foreseeable future.

"We do cooperate with other chambers on regional things, of course," he said. "And I’ve always felt that when you bring five or six people to the table with a common goal, and everyone is in support of the project, it is better than having two. But if you dilute those numbers you can dilute your influence, which is not a good thing.

"We’ve been around since 1959 and we work with everyone. So as long as the chamber remains economically viable and continue to help the community, we hope that will not change."