It’s extremely valuable in business to create your own social network that you can lean on. Think of it like a board for a company, consider the strengths you want to develop, including those skills you are still evolving.
While it’s easy to be drawn to people you are comfortable to be around, there is much value for your career in leaning on those who are least like you, these people can provide you with new insights and different ways of thinking.
Across the animal kingdom, females have worked out that creating a good support network is a pretty valuable thing to do. We can learn from them.
For instance, female otters are known to hold hands together to create a raft and prevent each other from drifting out to sea, while they sleep. When it comes to meerkats, the alpha female takes her pick of any males and calls all the shots in the colony backed by her girl gang.
Let’s face it, there would be no Simba if lionesses didn’t lead and hunt in packs.
There are many advantages to creating a great network if it’s genuine, has diversity and depth. Think of it like a bank account: you need to keep putting value in, otherwise when you come to withdraw from the networking ATM, you’ll find there is nothing there. So be generous.
A personal Board of Directors
In any industry, creating your own ‘personal Board of Directors’ is a good way to start.
Whilst in our personal lives we often seek out like-minded individuals, this isn’t always a healthy approach for your career.
Just like a real board, diversity is key. It drives creativity, challenge, perspectives, and opens you up to much bigger and broader relationships. Please don’t approach these relationships like asking someone to the prom. Spend time with them, invest in them and support them in return.
Ensure that your ‘board’ is also being appropriately refreshed and reviewed, and there will come a time when you’ll need to audit it to ensure you have the right people around you.
The edge in technology
While women hold 13.7% of chair positions and 16.5% of CEO positions within Australia, we have a long way to go before there is true equality in numbers and seniority across key leadership roles.
When you add an additional factor of working in the technology sector, these numbers diminish further.
Having worked in technology all my life, I have learnt to never approach this negatively, but instead as an edge that gives you a phenomenal advantage.
It’s not breaking news that companies who employ diversity in their senior ranking positions cultivate higher profits. Take for example, McKinsey’s ‘Delivering Through Diversity’, which investigates the link between diversity and company financial performance as one example. Take advantage of being unrepresented to boost you, and your business’ profile. Own it, work it and whatever you do: don’t waste it.
In the last ten years, the number of women’s networking groups in this area has expanded to a mind-boggling number.
The group of women within the Telstra Women’s Business Awards are an excellent example of the kind of groups that lift women up, build confidence, create relationships and educate. Embrace these groups.
A tight-knit circle
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that high performing women have one thing in common: they have a tight-knit circle of women who help them with their questions around work culture, hostility towards women and gender diversity.
Be aware that if you are using this as your primary networking weapon, you are competing within a homogeneous gene pool of women pulling on other women, so be smarter than that. Think bigger.
Considering the statistics of those in power, you need to network with men. They are amazing and we shouldn’t be dismissive, nor treat them with the same discrimination around believing they will not play a valuable and supportive role.
Increasing education around unconscious bias means that more men are stepping forward as unofficial champions of change. It pays for us to be inclusive too.
Without a shadow of doubt, create your own ‘stiletto network’ but building a strong and valuable network is about going back to the principles of being a nice person and going out of your way for others.
Think of them, invest in them and be a part of their success too, not the other way around. It’s a privilege to be around inspiring people and it’s a lifelong investment in both your career and in theirs.
Karen Lawson is a judge of the 2019 Telstra Business Women’s Awards.