Networking Your Way to the Boardroom
The right way to approach networking
Originally written by Liz O'Donnell.
"More and more, I understand the differences between men and women in business today. Women are truly not making their skills known and therefore are not making themselves available for work positions."
Tough love for women from Nancy Mellard, executive vice president and general counsel for the Employee Services Division of CBIZ and the national leader of CBIZ Women's Advantage, a provider of business solutions including financial services and technology systems.
"It's not just about going to a networking event; it's about truly engaging people in your story," says Mellard. "Attending a networking event is not enough. You must follow up after the event. Women must approach a networking event like they would approach closing a sale. Networking and telling your story are the two most critical tools for professional women today. The failure to effectively use these two tools is the gap in women on advisory boards. There are thousands of competent women who are not utilizing the correct tools to place themselves on these boards."
Mellard is referring to the fact that only 15 percent of corporate directors in the United States are women according to ION, InterOrganization Network, an alliance of women's organizations nationwide. ION published a report earlier this year titled "Planning for Tomorrow's Boardroom: Making Room for More Women." As part of the report, the group outlined several things companies can do to rectify the lack of women leaders. One suggestion was for companies to build a pipeline of future directors by developing relationships with potential candidates who are women and minorities. Women can help that process along by getting their names out there and letting their skills be known.
Julie Moore Rapacki, president of Polish Your Star, a career consulting firm, agrees."Networking and marketing your accomplishments effectively are critical to increasing women's representations on corporate boards. The majority of U.S. companies are not public. They don't announce their open board positions broadly. To be considered, the existing board members and those close to them need to know you, you're accomplishments, and be comfortable having you join the team."
Rapacki touches on one of the biggest challenges for women's advancement. People tend to network with people like them. That means that the men, who hold the majority of C-level and director positions, often reach out to other men for lunch appointments, golf outings and meetings over a beer. One has to wonder if there would have been a beer summit at the White House if Henry Louis Gates was Henrietta and Sergeant James Crowley was Sergeant Jane.
"Men are not used to finding women in their networks to consider when it comes to corporate directorships," says Katherine Putnam, President of Package Machinery Company Inc. "The issue is that, in general, networking seems to break down along gender lines. Since most corporate boards consist of men, they are not finding diverse candidates within their network. Clever executives can find new networks to pursue, but it takes some knowledge and thought." Putnam says The Boston Club, an ION member, is a great resource. The organization placed Putnam on a private board and she uses them to help find directors for her board. Another helpful organization is Women Corporate Directors (WCD).
"These organizations are dedicated to putting more women on boards," says Diane K. Danielson, President of the Downtown Women's Club. "The best way to get into an organization like WCD? To network. When it comes to board positions, just like promotions in the office, it's very rare that someone will just notice your exemplary work and pluck you out and put you on a board. You need to not only be your own advocate, but also build a network of advocates on your behalf."
She continued, "I would suggest that if you were looking to get on a board, make that a networking goal. Look at organizations that can help you do this and let people know, one, that you are interested in getting a board position; two, what type of board you would like to sit on; and three, why you are qualified to do so."
Women also need to build networks across gender divides. "I would also recommend expanding your network beyond women," says Danielson. "Men still make up the majority of board positions and you'll need to convince them that you should be serving. It may be hard to just jump on a board-especially a public one.
You might start small with non-profits or an alumni board and then build up."
Great advice, but not always easy to implement. Working women, already feeling the squeeze of balancing career and home life, can find it challenging to carve out time for self promotion. However, social media experts say that Web 2.0 tools can help.
"Time is often cited as a strong contributing factor, as women often juggle more in the work-life balance equation. Social media is now so much easier to use and there are a variety of professional networks for women to choose from - from role based communities, industry networking groups, regional groups and even the ever-present LinkedIn for a more broad based approach," says Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, an organization that works with Fortune 1000 companies to help them leverage their professional relationships online.
"Through the growing use of social media for professional collaboration, there is an opportunity for women to change this trend by using social media to forge new connections, collaborate more with peers, and activate their network when seeking to advance."
This article originally appeared on The Glass Hammer, an online community and blog for women working in financial services, law, and big business. To read more articles written to inform and empower you, network with other professional women, and search for top jobs, visit The Glass Hammer's website.