10/25/2012 11:36 am ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

Permission to Shop During Work Hours

Recently, I was invited by my local Chamber of Commerce to a day of shopping at our local mall with other professional business women.

I wondered, at first, if this was a charity event, or a mom/daughter event; looking into it further, I saw it for what it was -- a complete business development opportunity.

In the days following my receipt of the evite, that email sat in my inbox patiently as I tried to justify in my head how I was going to explain to those in my workplace why a day of shopping with the other business women of the area was a good idea. I thought of several women -- clients and professionals I work with -- who would enjoy this day full of several shopping-related activities, discounts, prizes, as well as breakfast, lunch and wine and cheese to cap off the day. It sounded like a non-threatening form of great networking for me and whatever women I would invite to join me -- but how was I to explain the business value in this day away from my desk?

Then, I got to thinking -- this day was set up exactly like a golf event. Now, I know my office staff is full of men and women who love to golf. Yet, though enjoyed by all, it is generally men who pick up, leave the office and enjoy a round of golf, under the auspices of networking or business development. Not a brow is raised, not a question asked to them about the day away from phones, emails and client appointments. In fact, many times, they will take a referral source, client or prospect with them golfing.

Why was this shopping event getting to me and why was I having a difficult time asking my boss about taking the day to shop when the Chamber had structured this event similar to the way they'd structured their golf outing earlier in the year? Ultimately, I was posing the question to myself -- why am I looking at a female-oriented event so differently from a male-structured event, like the golf outings our team was famous for participating in?

Indeed, I helped put together our golf foursome for our Chamber's event, even helped put together our sponsorship package and marketing give-aways for that golf event -- and many other golf events our organization has sponsored and participated in this summer.

I had filed away the evite to the shopping extravaganza, but after thinking about it for a period of time, I realized it was worth some action. I dug it out and began to reach out to several professional woman I knew who would take an interest in this event. Mind you, these women are top-of-their game professionals, who work tirelessly day in and out on their businesses. I began to see I wasn't the only one who was having a difficult time giving myself the permission to attend this event -- these women were asking themselves the same questions I was asking, some even having gone to their superiors and received an unfavorable response to the request to be out of the office "just to go shopping."

One of the women pointed out the same irony I had noticed earlier in the day -- a college administrator at a large college in the area, she said to me, "Josephine, I put together our college's golf outing and that day is structured essentially the same way this shopping extravaganza is -- an early start, networking and fun throughout the day, and a recap during dinner/drinks afterwards. It is strange I can't bring myself to get comfortable with leaving the office -- just because this business development event is surrounded by shopping."

I began a dialogue with these women about why some co-workers -- who wouldn't blink twice at a golf outing -- would snicker about this type of an event.

Yet, in the end, we are all working towards the same goals -- building our business, putting a more professional image into the public space and, maybe most importantly, putting a human face and touch to our dealings with our peers, vendors, referral sources and clientele.

At our firm, LJPR, our leader does specialize in recognizing the different approaches and attitudes women and men have in life in general; he has grown the firm with his individual and specific touch towards both men and women.

In facing this dilemma, we as a firm have pondered the need to re-examine thought processes about these networking events.

And -- yes -- I am going to the shopping extravaganza with bells on, and taking a group of women with me. We will shop until we drop, have a blast, enjoy the non-threatening environment and talk about our lives, loves, clothes and professions. We will get to know each other in a different and better way, and grow our relationship. We will gain a better knowledge of how we can assist one another to grow our businesses and our lives -- all in all, the event will achieve the ultimate goal of any professional (no, not a pair of those Christian Louboutin shoes I have had my eye on) -- a better dialogue and relationship.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.