"I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life who taught me about quiet strength and dignity.” — Michelle Obama
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I find myself hoping - as I do every year - that the celebration of women and our achievements won’t end when we flip the calendar. It’s been a time to recognize and support women-owned businesses (shout-out to Yelp for their help with that!), celebrate the achievements of women yesterday and today, and embrace our own networks of strong, supportive women.
I’ve worked hard to build and nurture a trusted network of women near and far, mentors and mentees, colleagues and friends. Without a strong support system, our work lives can get awfully lonely - especially when we grapple with challenges we can’t easily discuss with the people we work with. And no matter where we go in our careers, our networks travel with us, making them an invaluable resource as we explore new paths.
So for this Women’s History Month, I want to send a big shout-out to the amazing women in my network (you know who you are!), and share some tips to help you build and nurture your own. (And it goes without saying, I have plenty of awesome men in my network - but it’s WOMEN’S History Month, y’all!)
If you’re working to build and grow your network, it’s no time to be timid. If you have people in mind you’d like to connect with, ASK THEM. When a woman recently told me she was building her own personal “board of directors” and asked me to be a part of that circle, I was flattered and have happily made time for her. If you meet or are introduced to someone you especially connect with or admire, don’t hold back - tell them! Don’t be shy about sending an email or text to say how much you enjoyed meeting them and asking to continue the conversation!
Give and take.
I lean on my network for advice dealing with tricky situations or to make introductions to new contacts. But I always make sure to give back more than I take, offering advice, introductions and support. I used to worry that I was spending TOO much time mentoring and helping others, but I’ve become a big believer in Adam Grant’s philosophy that giving back to others breeds more fulfillment and success than constantly taking.
Find people who challenge you.
The best network is one filled with women who will give it to you straight. Don’t rely solely on those who will cheerlead you along - seek out supporters who “keep it real.” You need them to help you monitor your blindspots, consider perspectives you may overlook, and tell you when you’re heading down a bad path.
Make time to nurture relationships.
Think of your network like a garden - it requires time, attention and care to maintain and grow. It’s taken me a while to realize that time spent with the women I respect and admire is not just a fun diversion. It’s a key part of my work and deserves to be prioritized just like any other work-related activity (if not more!). Whenever I travel, I build time into my schedule to have lunch or coffee with someone in my network in that city. I make time for phone calls and to send and respond to emails. It’s not always easy, but it’s helped me cultivate quite a garden!
And while we’re on the topic of women helping women, please consider supporting one of these amazing female-focused non-profits:
- Dress for Success: Empowering women to achieve economic independence
- Girls Inc.: Inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold
- AnitaB.org: Connecting, inspiring and guiding women in technology
- Women’s WorldWide Web: An online crowdfunding platform promoting girls’ and women’s empowerment worldwide