Just Give Me Five: The Rules of Engagement for Women in Networking
By Leelannee K. Malin, PhD – Principal & CEO, Malin PR
I received a group email from an associate whom I had collaborated on several projects. We run in similar political, business and social circles. The email shared some job opportunities available within her network. She closed her correspondence by stating if anyone was interested in any of the opportunities to contact her directly and she would make the appropriate connections. I immediately responded by thanking her for including me, expressing interest, including a copy of my resume and asking about next steps. That was a month ago. I never heard back from her.
I began to think, even second-guess myself. Maybe she hadn’t received the email. Perhaps I didn’t click send; OH NO, I thought. Could it be sitting in my drafts folder? I double-checked my email, and then re-read her email. Maybe she was just passing info along and I misread that she was willing to do introductions to the other party. Then I thought back to all of our interactions. Had I done or said something that offended her? But all I could think of was that time when she was in a jam with a client and I bailed her out and saved the day, no questions asked. Or that time she wanted career advice on starting her own consulting service and I lent an ear, words of encouragement and career counseling, something I am usually paid to do. So, what could it be? Why wouldn’t she respond if she initiated the email and offered to be a liaison?
Then it hit me. It made me stroll down memory lane, thinking of the number of times that I’ve heard women share the same type of story. Thinking of the number of “networking for women”, “sister circle”, “girl empowerment” events I’ve heard of and attended. Understanding that most opportunities are filtered through the networks and circles in which we travel, but realizing that many of the opportunities that have come my way were never through these pipelines. The days of cold calling and job interviews just from submitting a resume were over, if they every really existed. A large part of leading in the industry is about who you know and how you make application of your network more specifically for women and minorities. It goes without saying that there are more than enough well qualified, well versed, extremely educated and exceptionally talented women in government as well as many other fields. However much of the discussion about the proverbial glass ceiling focuses on the systemic oppression but rarely do we address how we as women might contribute to our own struggle. Therefore it is important to evaluate a small yet critical role that we could be playing in our narrative in our quest for leadership.
So, below are 5 rules of engagement for women leading in government and other fields. If we as women want to crack the glass, in order to shatter that ceiling, let’s start by giving each other five.
1. Show Don’t Tell
All it takes is five minutes to send the introductory email, group text message or make a quick call on another woman’s behalf. We often talk the talk but do we really walk the walk? How often have we met for coffee, drinks, lunch or dinner with a female friend, colleague or acquaintance and said we’d refer, introduce or connect her with someone who could move her forward; then got back to the office or home and didn’t follow through. Sometimes we’ve gotten too busy, sometimes we just forgot and sometimes, we’ve had second thoughts about our offer. Whether it is consciously or unconsciously we’ve been apart of the problem of reinforcing the glass ceiling instead of lending our stiletto to help crack that glass. If we plan strategically by making it apart of our to do list, we can better stay committed to the process. If we’ve had second thoughts about our offer, we should evaluate why. Why do we want to no longer honor our commitment and why did we make the offer to begin with. If you find that the other party isn’t a match, not in alignment with your principles or detrimental to your brand, then at best being honest with them is the key and at worst, a simple follow up to let them know that you are unable to assist as previously planned. All it takes is five minutes.
You won’t always get something out of it but do unto others as you would hope could happen for you. Receivership is great but it is important to pay it forward. Relationships have to be mutually beneficial in order to grow and help expand the female ecosystem within any industry. The Good Ole Boys Club didn’t become a club by only receiving. Advising and counseling is great but don’t just talk about it, be about it. Something as simple as picking up the phone, shooting a text or an email is such a small yet big step in cultivating your network. The key take away is networking has to be reciprocal and it starts with just five minutes of effort.
3. Convene a Board of Advisors
In doing so, begin to create and convene a circle of trust. What about the Good Ole Girls Club, Sister Circle or whatever you want to call it? Show and tell and reciprocating has its pros and cons, but the concept often lacks strategy. I often encounter women who say they’ve been shunned, burned or stepped on by other women. They became jaded, disgruntled and super competitive in a negative way. But one red bottom shouldn’t spoil a bunch. Be smart and strategic about your professional and personal community by surrounding yourself by people who will tell you better; who will help you to become better; who are interested in you becoming your best you. This group should be your own personal board of advisors AND they should include men. As a matter of fact, they should include a body of people who aren’t necessarily just like you. However, they should have the same system of ethics. How can you grow and blossom if you remain with the same group of flowers or weeds? Your group should be diverse by age, race, nationality, and work industries. This will widen your outlook, perspective, your access AND your opportunities. But be wise and beware, you shouldn’t always fill your circle with the same people that you are having wine and sharing personal secrets with. It’s okay to have professional friends and personal friends but people often confuse and or cabinet the two. You have to give yourself room to mess up, to learn, to grow in any relationship without messing up another one or the entire network. Convening a board of advisors and serving in a reciprocal role, can start with just five people.
4. Looks Do Matter, So Look the Part
YES. THEY. DO. But it’s not what you assume. Don’t focus on the obvious. It doesn’t necessarily mean be dressed for a runway debut, though investing in that chic pump and signature dress, wrap or pant suit is a must. But rather, be well groomed, packaged, polished and unforgettable. There is a whole lot of truth in the importance of the messenger. If you want to be taken seriously then look, act and sound serious. Be appropriate in your presentation. Class, fashion and functionality don’t have to be compromised or sacrificed for career advancement, instead they go hand in hand. It takes just five extra minutes to add a finishing and unforgettable signature touch.
5. Titles Do Matter, So Act the Part
If a title, rank or salary didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be such a disparity of women in leadership roles, a gender pay gap, or the basic need for discussions like this. So it’s simple, if you want to be a leader, then act like one. Start by distinguishing yourself from the pack and leading through example. A person in charge is a free and independent thinker. They avoid the herd mentality, group think dynamics and aren’t interested in duplication in order to go along to get along. Exhibit innovation starting with that first look. Update, polish and upgrade your LinkedIn page, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or whatever social platforms you are using. If you dedicated just five hours per month to updating your image on paper (or on line), you will begin to present yourself in the manner in which you want to be received. And if you want to be someone else in your down time, then embrace that alter ego by making Facebook, Twitter and Instagram private; always remembering that your social media image should mirror who you really are but most importantly what you aspire to be.
While 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, months or weeks is not enough time to shatter a glass ceiling that took 5 eternities to construct; incorporating these 5 steps into your career strategy and outlook will definitely change how productive the next 5 years of your overall career plan can be.
Dr. Leelannee K. Malin is a communications professor and practitioner with over 15 years of experience in the industry. As the owner of Malin PR, she provides services to organizations in the sport and entertainment, non-profit and government arenas. Dr. Malin’s research and writing agenda includes gender stereotypes, social media, sport and the popular culture. You can reach her here:
LinkedIn: Leelannee Malin