Why Women's Networks Are More Important Than Ever
When the pandemic started, I was six months pregnant with my second daughter, had just left the agency where I started my career 14 years ago, and my beloved city, New York, was the epicenter of the crisis. We all have our pandemic stories—those that feel uniquely isolating, regressive and just plain hard. Thankfully, mine didn't include a personal experience with Covid or the devastating loss of a loved one, but it was a tough time for all. I wouldn't have gotten through it without the support of my personal and professional networks.
A month before lockdown began, I joined Chief, the private membership network focused on connecting and supporting women executive leaders. The Chief core group algorithm is remarkable. It connected me with a group of women who had eerily similar professional and personal circumstances. We were all in career transition, all moms (some also pregnant), all highly accomplished, motivated leaders facing a ton of pressure professionally.
We met monthly, exchanged stories, reflected on our careers through curated exercises, and worked through specific professional challenges that were impacting us at that very moment. We listened, encouraged and advised each other. These ladies helped me prepare myself for the next chapter of my career. "Read this book." "Don't settle for that." "Push harder for what you want." "It sounds like you already know the answer." "You're going to nail it."
While Chief was instrumental in my Covid networking experience, my support network extends well beyond that group. I am also a member of Women In Innovation, a fantastic group whose mission is to forge an equitable future in the field of innovation. For networking beginners, this is a very comfortable and welcoming community. If innovation is not your field, find a small community within your expertise and start there. Chances are you'll all have friends in common.
Networking groups have also helped me in my personal life. NYC moms groups are a thing of beauty. I remember when on maternity leave with my first daughter I posted a question about how to breastfeed in public to the Madison Square Park Moms Facebook group and received an outpouring of support, practical advice (try the dressing rooms of shops on lower Fifth) and even some legal advice should I face any rude comments from strangers in the park. Recently, we had to find a new nanny. I sought out the most generous and long-winded posts from moms who were escaping to the suburbs and a wreck for having to part ways with their beloved nanny. I called all of the references. We found a new nanny within a month.
These networking groups have been invaluable to me. When thinking about your network, ask yourself, what do you need at this point in your work life? Do you need inspiration or groundedness? Diversity of thought or shared experience? Every strategist loves a 2x2. Create your spectrums and then plot your network against it. Who is close in and inspiring to you? These are the people who you can trust to help you advance in your career. Who is farther out but represents a shared experience? Reach out, connect over your shared experience and get to know where they are on their journey.
My tips for mentorship:
Prepare yourself for the experience.
If you're seeking a mentor, be sure you've done the necessary level of soul searching required. A mentor wants to know that you're serious, motivated and won't take up their time in unproductive ways.
Find someone you admire professionally.
Tell them why they inspire you. Don't be afraid to go out on a limb and reach out to higher ranks. Imposter syndrome buries the best of us. Make your future mentor see that they have a unique lived experience that you would like to learn from.
Make a specific and tangible request.
Introduce me to so-and-so, take a look at my résumé, help me choose between A and B. It's very satisfying to support a resolution and make a direct positive impact for someone. And offer to return the favor.
Finally, if someone asks you to be their mentor, be honest about what you can take on. Saying no, if it's not the right time for you, is more helpful than not fully showing up for someone who needs you or digging yourself deeper into your own mountain of to-do's. Let them find someone who can spare the headspace, or even better, point them in the right direction.