In my twenties, I was fortunate to attend a leadership retreat at The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership—a non profit training centre for women. It was founded in 1997 by Naomi Wolf, a bestselling author, and Margot Magowan, writer and radio producer. The Institute was named after Victoria Woodhull, a prolific feminist and the first woman to run for president prior to women even having the freedom to vote, the first woman stockbroker on Wall Street, and the first woman to produce her own newspaper. Victoria no doubt knew how to make the most of her contacts.
The retreat encouraged working together as women. One of the sessions was networking, a concept not always well utilized. It is “the old boys club” that is famous for sharing information and helping each other succeed. Women are known to be relational, but don't always leverage this when it comes to careers. The reasons for this can vary. There have often been too few places at the top for women. Men hold CEO positions at a ratio of 10-1 and, therefore, don't view their opportunities as being as limited. Women have not had the luxury of perceived endless options and can approach opportunities with a scarcity mentality—afraid to share, afraid of losing the spot at the top.
Another challenge to networking might be how women network. Studies have shown women have been less successful than men in establishing and utilizing networks. Men often favour a more direct, ask and ye shall receive approach. Have a problem? Call the person you think can help. This can be a beneficial approach. At the Blissdom social networking conference in October 2013, I heard our Erica Ehm share one of the secrets of her success—asking for what she wanted.
Traditionally, women have preferred a more relationship-based approach to networking, seeking value added situations, finding out what we can do for others before asking for ourselves. This generous approach can be powerful. “Nothing liberates your greatness like the desire to help, the desire to serve” —Marianne Willamson. Women often listen to others and get to know them. Developing more intimate relationships create longevity and trust, and can open up connections across a wide spectrum, from contacts for our children to a job opportunity. However, intimate relationships can make it difficult. We see the complexity of relationships links, worry about blurred lines, and fear the conversations that could arise if the connection doesn't work out. We choose not to get involved or take risks.
We need to lose fear and reach out. I have found many fabulous communities wanting to connect with others, including YMC. Networking lead to my opportunity to write here, because Andrea Nair extended her contacts, not fearful that another psychotherapist would be joining the team, but rather championing me on. Another reason, I am writing here—I asked for what I wanted.
A great way to network is to attend conferences, like Mompreneur, Blissdom, and Mom 2.0, where like-minded others are looking for connections. In Olivia Fox Cabane's article, entitled “Plane Speaking: In flight Networking,” she states that, "Every minute you're around other human beings is a chance to network." Reach out on the commuter train, the coffee shop, at a children's birthday party, or at your gym. You can contact men and women in your area of interest online, starting dialogues and relationships.
It is important for us to network with emotional intelligence (a clear sense of who we are and what we need) and social intelligence (a sense of who others are and what they need). Armed with this, we can make the most of our professional and social connections. If unclear as to what we or others need, talk to friends, a mentor, a brand manager, or a therapist. Then utilize, network, take risks, and ask. You will find a world of opportunity opening up to you.