Is Your Network Good Enough?
In March 2020, I was lucky enough to speak with a group of successful female entrepreneurs from all across the United States who are seeking investors to grow and scale their businesses. Our topic of discussion: How to be a strong, successful self-advocate as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Consider what they are facing: In 2020, women-led startups received just 2.3% of all venture capital (VC) funding, a number that is down from the record of 2.8% in 2019. There are many reasons for this lack of funding and no quick or easy fixes, but there was one one piece of advice from the event that is relevant for any professional that wants to be even more successful: To move ahead, you must thoughtful build and then leverage your network of friends, allies, mentors and sponsors.
The key takeaway: Your Network is Your Net Worth.
Right or wrong, well-connected people can open doors that are otherwise closed or really hard to crack open. However, they cannot open a door for you if they do not know you - and know what you want and need. So, while your network is critically important, what you DO with your network is equally important.
Research consistently shows that men have stronger, deeper and broader networks compared to women. Men tend to seek out mentors at a higher rate than women and meet with their mentors more often. Additionally, while there is a growing trend in larger organizations for women to have sponsors, many women still lack them.
If you want to work on being a better self-advocate, start by building out a network to which you can advocate! Consider the following:
If you don't have a mentor, go find one. If you do, add another. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and it can be beneficial to have a mentor that does not look like you. Check out this HBR article for tips on how to find - and then ask - someone to be a mentor.
Make a list of who you need to know to meet your goal. It may sound easy, but too many people stay passive. Think about the people who can influence your growth, open doors to make a sale, or help you gain funding. Make your list. If you don't know them, think about who you know who can get you one step closer.
Consider one degree of separation. Who do you know that might know your target? Check LinkedIn for possible connections or search your college or graduate school alumni database for possible connections. (You don't have to know the alumni, just call or email and reference your common connection and ask for an introductory chat).
If you work in a large company, consider a sponsor. Sponsors are senior leaders who are willing to advocate for you on your behalf. They are the people in the room when new projects are assigned, departments are restructured and promotions are considered. Check out this article if you want to learn more about sponsors.
So... are you leveraging your network or just collecting names on LinkedIn?
Nicole Provonchee is an executive coach and strategist that works with women leaders and teams across the nation.
After 20 years climbing the corporate ladder, she started Bright Blue Consulting, where she can combine her skills as a coach with her practical experiences as a leader and executive.
Nicole is a sought-after speaker and can bring her "get out of your own way", self-advocacy, negotiation skills workshops to your organization or company. Learn more on her speaking page. Or, reach out to her today.