How Women Can Create Networks for Success
Women are chipping away at securing more funding and penetrating the ranks of leadership, but we still face numerous challenges getting ahead. While men and women enter the workforce at pretty equal rates, women hold only 21% of C-level positions and only 4% of Fortune 500 CEO roles. In addition, only 2% of Venture Capital went to female-led companies across all industries in 2017.
Whether it's securing funding, getting a promotion, or landing a new side gig, it is critical that we establish solid support systems for ourselves in order to succeed. Mentors play a very important role here, but the term is so loosely applied nowadays that it is important to step back and figure out several key things before tapping into mentorship – including figuring out if a mentor is really what you need.
Women tend to think long-term in terms of risk assessment, but pitch short-term on new ideas. We need to pitch big and work back from that in terms of what we need both now and later.
Set big goals based on the vision you have for yourself long-term. Create your own personal scorecard to measure your success and keep you focused.
Understand what you are up against and where you need outside help.
Take stock of your strengths, both innate and cultivated, as well as the work product you have developed, the people in your corner, and the goodwill you have secured.
Align these against your vision for yourself and figure out the big gaps. You have to know where you are starting from to know what help you need to move ahead.
Be clear on your assumptions about mentoring.
Many people assume that because someone worked in a similar field, they will be a good mentor for them, or that a mentor will tell them what to do. Others assume they have to join a mentor program to find a good mentor, or that the relationship is forever.
These assumptions are all false. Great mentors demonstrate a path to success that includes thought processes, approaches, actions, and working with others. They can be any age, gender, role, or walk of life.
Take a hard look at your network.
Segment people into one of five categories: sponsor, advisor, career coach, mentor, or other. Some may fall into more than one category, and that is okay.
- Sponsors can advocate for you to be considered for an opportunity.
- Advisors have deep expertise in specific areas.
- Career coaches help you set goals and hold you accountable.
- Mentors have been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.
- Others don’t have an active role now, but that may change in the future.
Women are great cultivators of relationships - use this to your advantage.
As you align the people in each segment of your network to your gaps, figure out where you need to fill holes with new people and where you need to shore up the good contacts you already have. Do your homework and figure out how they can – and cannot – help you.
Be specific in your asks and get feedback on what is reasonable and the time to follow up. Turn it into an action plan. Make sure everything ties back to your scorecard.
Make sure you have a balanced group of men and women in your network.
This is vital for personal success as well as company success. We need multiple points of view and experiences to draw on to be great leaders.
This also sets a great tone of inclusivity for others who work with you.
Be aware that women tend to think "we" rather than "me."
This is not a hard and fast rule, of course, but being tuned in to any tendency you may have to start out with “we” — meaning what is best for all parties versus what is best for you — will help you make sure you are asking for what you need.
Leverage empathy to figure out the value proposition you provide others you are positioning with, and don’t skew so far into the “we” that you negotiate against yourself in the process.
Finally, women must invest in themselves to succeed as business leaders.
Women easily fall into a trap of prioritizing others' needs above our own, and this is extremely self-limiting. Good mentors will help overcome this and provide good resources to tap into.
Spending dedicated time on professional development and career coaching to hone leadership skills is critical to developing into a world-class leader. You need it, your company needs it, and your shareholders need it.
[Related: Why Your Stalled Career Needs a Mentor]
Throughout her twenty-five-year career, Michelle Bogan has mentored colleagues and clients, founded and led women's groups, and helped promote many women and men to leadership positions. In 2018, she founded Equity for Women to advance the mission of empowering women at work.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Founder & CEO
Equity At Work
Michelle's mission is to help companies create equitable workplaces. She is the Founder and CEO of Equity At Work®, helping leaders achieve major impact through their diversity, inclusion and equity work. Additionally Michelle is an Investment Committee Member for the Revtech Equity for Women Fund, investing in women-founded, co-founded and led startups in retail technology. She is also on the Advisory Board of Theatro, an AI tech solution for workforce communications. Michelle previously worked at Accenture,... Continue Reading