Marcela Oliver was looking to network. Not just pass out business cards, but to make true, lasting connections with similarly-minded businesswomen around South Florida. So, four years ago, the partner and Director of Communications at Bright Business Solutions set out to her first SSL (Suits, Stilettos and Lipstick) event in Miami. And then she hit traffic. Two hours of it.
Not easily discouraged and enthusiastic about the eventual outcome of the Miami event, Oliver turned her attention to the more easily accessible Fort Lauderdale SSL chapter. But, once again, found her plans waylaid by South Florida traffic. So she took matters into her own hands and, this past April, launched the first West Broward outpost of the organization with an event at Segafredo Pembroke Pines in The Shops at Pembroke Gardens.
“I fell in love with the SSL community,” says Oliver, who now acts as President of West Broward’s SASSY (Smart, Assertive, Strategic, Selfless and Young at Heart) community. “I was very impressed. It’s hard to find genuine, authentic, nice people these days. They made me feel important; that they wanted me there.”
Founded in Fort Lauderdale in 2012 by psychotherapists Dr. Elizabeth King and Yvonne Haase, the organization now boasts five “communities:” four in South Florida and one in Chicago. The women-led (and men-friendly) organization focuses on teaching members how to grow personally, spiritually and professionally, while engaging in networking opportunities. Since its launch, the organization has grown to become a 4,000-strong sisterhood; promoting and supporting professional women, while also supporting local nonprofit organizations through The Lipstick Foundation, SSL’s charity partner.
For Oliver, a marketing and communications strategist and consultant, it was the warm and friendly environment that stood out to her, a distinct departure from other networking and business groups she had attended in the past. “The purpose is to make business connections, but not because you’re passing out business cards, it’s because you’re connecting with each other,” she says. “It’s a completely different experience. We end up doing business with each other, but the connections are at a different level.”
Even the events (every fourth Thursday of the month from 6 -8 p.m.) are outside the box. Newbies are identified with red leis, signaling other attendees to come speak with them, introduce them around and generally make them feel comfortable. “A lot of people are very shy and don’t know how to network so we literally immediately break the ice,” says Oliver.
Her own journey to bring about the West Broward community was years in the making (“I’m kind of stubborn and I don’t take no, I kept saying ‘I don’t want to drive an hour!’”), but this past December Oliver got the go-ahead from King and Haase and set to work putting together a board and planning the April launch event, which drew more than 85 professional and entrepreneurial women along with Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank C. Ortis, Commissioner Jay Schwartz and Launa Carbonell, representing Broward County District 8 Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief.
Oliver hopes to continue to empower and invite more women (and men, known as “SASSY cats”) to future events as the community grows and gives credit to her “amazing” board for helping to streamline the creation process and support her vision. Says Oliver “I kept saying we needed to open a community. I have amazing women in the west Broward area who want this. And now we are doing it, we are making it happen.”
For more information on SSL visit suitsstilettosandlipstick.com.