women in business

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 be 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.  While mentors play a very important role here, the term is so loosely applied nowadays it is important to step back and figure out several key things before tapping into a mentor – including figuring out if a mentor is really what you need.

Think Big

Women tend to think long-term in terms of risk assessments but pitch short-term and conservatively 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, innately 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 you, or that the mentor will tell you what to do.  Others assume you have to join a mentor program to find a good mentor or that the relationship is forever. These 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 5 Categories: Sponsor, Advisor, Career Coach, Mentor, Or Other

 Some may fall into more than one category and that is ok.

    • 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 other’s needs above our own and this is extremely self-limiting.  Good mentors will reinforce this and provide good resources to tap into. Spending dedicated time on professional development and career coaching to hone leadership skills is critical to develop into a world-class leader.  You need it, your company needs it and your shareholders need it.

*Sources: 1) Paradigm for Parity website; 2) PitchBook

Michelle Bogan

Founder & CEO of EQUITY FOR WOMEN, Women's Leadership Advisor and Speaker