Can strategic networking help to pave the way for more women in the C-Suite? What about the board? Yes, and Yes! Effective male allies support, advocate for, sponsor and take actions such as collaborating on key initiatives, to help women advance. Given that men – mostly white men – are at the helm of industry and executive decision making, the conversations about equality, diversity and women’s advancement MUST include them.
The Business Case
In 2016, Peterson Institute for International Economics, a non-partisan think tank, published “Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey.” The researchers surveyed 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries and the data showed that female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlate with increased profitability for those companies. The report was written by Marcus Noland, Tyler Moran, and Barbara Kotschwar and supported by a major research grant from EY. It is arguably the most robust analysis of gender diversity and corporate profitability to date.
Sponsorship is a very important part of professional advancement. In addition to mentoring, sponsorship has been cited as a key factor in helping to propel careers of both men and women. How does one attract a sponsor? In order to be sponsored, the individual must be on radar of the potential sponsor and executives need to know that the person has the competence, credibility and confidence to take on the role. In many cases, women and minorities do not have the access, working relationship or informal networks that would bring them to the attention of a potential sponsor.
The kind of relationship building and bonding that occurs among executives often happens on the golf course, at the sports event, at the executive club or some other informal venue. Comfort, fit and colleagues who can vouch for the person seeking sponsorship, are all part of the considerations. Executives like to network with others who are like them: people with whom they have a comfort level, a high degree of trust and respect and people who will fit into the culture of the board or C-Suite environment. When that culture is all white male or mostly white male, diversity becomes a disruptive force. Strategic networking is a great way for allies and soon-to-be allies to engage meaningfully and build diverse relationships.
Strategic Networking as a Bridge
Strategic networking requires a vision and a plan for achieving your goals. Relationship building, outreach and management of one’s network are an intentional part of the mix and needs to be aligned with that vision. In the case of advancing women and minorities, the vision should include them. Executives must chart a new course, new strategies and new activities in order to get a different result. As I mentioned in my March article “Why Everyone Should Care about Women’s Leadership,” men and women have a shared responsibility to accelerate change. So how does one build a bridge to women and minorities who are poised for advancement?
· Get to know the women and minorities in your organization. Yes. I know this seems obvious, but I’m not talking about superficial relationships or making inquiries of HR about the person(s) without actually talking to them or engaging them. Personal connections provide an opportunity to share, learn, observe and influence. Organizations such as The Partnership Inc. can help.
· Get involved with executive women’s organizations such as The Boston Club. Find the ones in your market. Inquire about ways to get involved, while respecting the mission and operating norms of the organization.
· Utilize firms with a focus on advancing minorities as a means of networking and building meaningful connections with people of color. In order to establish trust, you must be consistent with your engagement and do what you say you will do! For those in the Boston area, Get Konnected is a great forum for networking with diverse people across many sectors and cultures.
· Ask for help. Engage external experts who can help you build your bench strength and connect you to resources and people to elevate your outreach. Eastern Bank’s CEO, Bob Rivers, increased diversity on the Board of Directors by employing this strategy.
· Slow down your process. Take time to reflect on your current process. To be an effective ally, you should be aware of the barriers to access and adjustments that may be needed to create a welcoming environment. This also applies to recruiting talent – it’s faster to go with the people with whom you are comfortable than it is to outreach to new people. This does not bode well for women and minorities. By slowing things down, you can create space and opportunity for bringing new voices to the table and to the board of directors.
· Take action. Think about your culture and determine how you can make it more inclusive. For other thoughts on what can be done see “What Can We Do” section of “Why Everyone Should Care about Women’s Leadership.
Women are making progress – great progress – but there is a long way to go! Just recently Women on Boards 2020 announced that their goal of women attaining board seats in 800-plus companies they identified to track has exceeded their 20 percent goal! Their data show an increase from 19.7 percent in 2016 and 14.6 percent in 2011, when they started tracking the data. With more men as strategic networking allies, we can gain greater momentum on women’s advancement.
Juliette Mayers is the author of The Guide to Strategic Networking and A Black Woman’s Guide to Networking and founder and CEO of Inspiration Zone LLC. Visitwww.juliettemayers.com and www.inspirationzonellc.com (register to receive updates) Follow @juliettemayers.
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