CORAL SPRINGS, FL – All business owners face challenges, but women often have more obstacles to overcome due to their gender.

That’s why the Coral Springs Coconut Creek Regional Chamber of Commerce created the Professional Women’s Alliance.

Now in its 10th year, the group has helped women network, bond and deal with unique hardships ranging from balancing home-work responsibilities to inequalities in the workplace.

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“We created this to educate, inspire and empower women in business,” said Cindy Brief, the chamber’s CEO. “Women are still a minority in the business world, and we wanted to have a group that meets regularly with special speakers and topics that appeal to working women professionals.”

Labor data supports the need for the group.

Women are a dominant force in the labor market, accounting for exactly half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, according to the December federal jobs report. Still, many women don’t make equivalent salaries as men in similar jobs. In one study by the Brookings Institute, almost 60 percent of women would earn more if they were paid the same as men with equivalent levels of education and work hours.

For many participants in the Alliance, the group has become a source of friendships.

“It’s not just networking – it’s a sisterhood,” said Donna Denton, the Alliance’s chairwoman for the past two years. “After our meetings, no one wants to leave. We stay and talk.”

Denton, vice president and branch manager of Amtrust Bank in Coral Springs, has attended the group’s bi-monthly meetings for seven years. She, too, has learned a lot from speakers who are women from different professions and share their expertise as well as their unique paths to reaching the tops of their industries.

“It’s so important to leave work for two hours, be a part of a sisterhood and learn from each other,” she said.

Over the years, the speakers have included the first female chief-of-staff at Broward Health Coral Springs, Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, city manager of Coconut Creek Karen Brooks, and many others, Brief said.

“It’s a great feeling when you go in the room,” Brief said. “It’s one of the best things we do as a chamber.”

She said the Alliance is a way for women to network without feeling intimated by men – although men are welcome to attend the meetings.

“Every woman has likely had some obstacle that she had to overcome simply because she was a woman,” Brief said. “That’s why we have this group. We listen to each other, share our experiences and stories, and learn to overcome issues together.”