One of my first mentors, Laura Hine, (who I mention because I think her daughter reads this!) once told me that women network and build relationships differently than men. She was working with Catalyst, which was studying this, and I don’t know what the end solutions they proposed or came up with were. But it always stuck in my head. Because I hated traditional business networking. Don’t we all?
It’s one of those things that sounds sexist to some people who believe success is succeeding in the world the way it’s set up for men. Why should women have to do things differently?
I have found women who say that (including me in my 20s and 30s) are women who are able to succeed via the “cool dude” playbook. Succeed by being men. That’s not a path open to everyone. Consider the struggles most women endure to find mentors. Less than 50% of women have access to senior management in their company.
There are those lame men who don’t support women because they somehow thing they’ll be the target of a #MeToo scandal. On the other side, there are the Justin Caldbecks of the world—the VC who reaches out presumably for a business meeting then grabs your leg. And as Ellen Pao’s lawsuit showed, sometimes women aren’t even invited to the golf/strip club-style events.
All the data shows it is simply not an equal networking world for women.
So, why shouldn’t we find new ways to network even if the old ways have worked for some of us? Right now we are seeing record numbers of female candidates redefine what “electability” looks like, and in corporations women who proudly hold babies as they take their companies public are redefining what leadership looks like.
What would it look like if we redefined what networking looked like?
I don’t know about you, but I hate standing around in a freezing conference room, scanning nametags, asking people what they do, having to explain what I do 100 times, and making small unremarkable talk. It is really hard for me to think of a single meaningful social or business relationship I built that way.
Where I have built incredibly valuable—career defining—relationships is by attending immersive, getaway, low-programming conferences. I have gone to The Lobby for more than a decade. And I have raised millions in venture capital directly from those relationships. That’s why I created the Chairman Mom Flee.
The other way I build meaningful connections is sit-down dinners. There is something to me about sitting, eating, being relaxed, and enjoying the pace of a conversation over a meal versus standing around awkwardly. And yet, I’d say 50% of my close female friends in the industry have come from people I got to know at dinners.
Many of you know I’ve spent years hosting dinners like this in San Francisco, and now we’re doing them in Seattle. We did our second one last Monday in partnership with The Riveter. I can’t stop thinking about some of the women I met and when I can connect with them again. We have a big plan to do more of these all over the country in 2020. We need a sponsor to make it happen, so it’s not a guarantee. But I hope that I get to sit down and deeply get to know each of you in your home market at some point. I have never met a Chairman Mom member who I’ve had a bad conversation with!
As we think through other ways to bring our community together, I’m curious what works for you when it comes to networking?
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom: