Women need to put networking on their own friendly, get-to-know-you terms.

Women need to put networking on their own friendly, get-to-know-you terms.

"I don't want to have your card forced down my throat initially," said Mary B. Relotto. "Men, it's all business to them, more than it is relationship, and we've mimicked what they do."

To change that, Relotto started Dames Bond, a Central Ohio networking group that promotes female-owned businesses at its events and on its website, DamesBond.com.

It seems to be working. After three years, the group has gathered 835 members, and Relotto has her eyes on starting chapters across the country.

The organization's main focus is a recently launched website and monthly meet-ups, called Bond Events.

Membership is open to anyone; those interested in showing their support for women in business, including men, can register as supporting members for free. Other levels of support allow access to different parts of the website, like event postings and message boards, plus admission to Bond Events.

The meet-ups are held the first Monday of each month at a different female-owned business. The events showcase that business, along with a social hour that doesn't let anyone slip through the cracks.

Relotto's philosophy is that once women get to know each other, professional relationships will follow. A female electrician who came to last week's Bond Event is coming this week to fix a light in her kitchen, Relotto said.

"Men network card-to-card, business-to-business," she said. "They don't form the friendship first."

In some cases, the relationships formed through Dames Bond have kept the female-owned businesses afloat, Relotto said.

A keyword search at the top of the Dames Bond website brings up profiles of female-owned businesses, from Realtors to Mary Kay consultants. The list has been growing every day, and anyone is encouraged to post a listing.

"We want to be that go-to place where anyone who's looking for a woman-owned business and great product and service will go to Dames Bond before they go anywhere else," she said.

Among this invested and involved group, the economic downturn is a big concern, Relotto said. Recent Bond Event topics have included bankruptcy and how to buy a home in 2009.

The group hopes to go national by 2010, establishing local chapters all over the country. By word of mouth, the women involved in Central Ohio have gotten their friends in other cities interested, Relotto said.

She added, "I think, right now, women are trying to find that affordable way to network."