Networking can pay career dividends, but it’s also building bonds that will help promote women in leadership, writes Marina Go. She is GM of Hearst-Bauer Media, Chair of Wests Tigers Rugby League Club, and a member of the Walkley Advisory Board. This is an edited excerpt from her book Break Through: 20 Success Strategies For Female Leaders. Get more advice from Go when she appears at Storyology as part of a panel on management shake-up.
There is a skill to networking and it’s one I have honed after many years of observing the best in the business.
Instead of turning up to any event and every event, downing copious glasses of champagne and mingling with peers, skilled networkers have already determined the guest list and have developed a plan for meeting people who could assist in advancing their careers.
In my capacity as the leader of a business I prefer to attend events at which the host company’s CEO will be present. I ensure that where possible he or she is the first person I shake hands with on arrival.
From there, I work down the list of clients and key stakeholders in my industry before reverting to a chat with my peers or team.
It’s not only important for your business, but it can have a positive impact on your career if you ever need someone to talk to about your next move, for example.
Attending non-industry events with inspirational speakers is another opportunity to gain a new, potentially rewarding connection. It’s how I met Non-Executive Director and Chair of Citibank Australia Sam Mostyn. She was speaking at a Women With MBAs networking event that I attended in 2003 when my board aspirations were still forming. Since then, I have been fortunate to have received her career counsel on a couple of occasions.
Chairman of the Canberra Raiders NRL Club Allan Hawke asked me to email him through my board CV shortly after we met at the Auckland chairman’s dinner. He had been approached by a board that was looking for an independent director and he wanted to recommend me. That’s often how it works as I have learned over the years. Most opportunities at a leadership level are not advertised so the only way that you might learn about them is if someone recommends you. And you are less likely to be recommended unless you are known to the right people.
I have also hired staff as the result of networking. When I was appointed CEO of Private Media I was in the market for an executive assistant. At around the same time a senior woman in the media industry made contact with me to offer a networking opportunity to a young woman she had met through another contact. The timing of the approach was purely coincidental as I hadn’t advertised the role. That connection resulted in me appointing the young woman as my EA.
My advice is to make as many connections as you can, attend as many industry events as you have time for, and be strategic in who you speak with before you have too many glasses of Champagne.
Women who help women (and those who don’t) At a Women’s National Basketball Association dinner in 2006, Madeleine Albright famously said, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. It’s a line that has been requoted far and wide by female leaders in an attempt to drive home the key point that while most women may be female-friendly, not all are actually female-enabling.
I have worked with and for both types of women. The distinction is clear to me. Women who want other women to succeed do so with the full knowledge and hope that the women they have helped climb the ladder behind them may one day reach a higher rung. It’s the key difference in thinking and extremely challenging for most people to comprehend. But there will never be real change at the leadership level without that possibility becoming a reality.
I am approached on a regular basis by organisations and individual women seeking my assistance, advice and mentorship. I can’t think of a single occasion when I have turned down the opportunity to speak to a woman about her career, or to a CEO about what more could be done to increase the pipeline of women in an organisation. Time may prevent an immediate meeting or phone call but we get to it eventually. I have helped women achieve pay rises way beyond my own salary, get onto boards I haven’t had the chance to sit on, and into C-suite roles in major corporations that I have often thought about pursuing myself.
Transformational change for female leadership requires us to think beyond our personal goals with the bigger picture in mind. More women gathering at the tops of all the trees benefits women, men and organisations.
Being a woman who helps women has to be more than a clever line or set of spoken words. You need to walk the talk. I am constantly amazed when I see groups and companies say they are pro-women, but then behave in a contradictory fashion. You can’t be fighting the equality cause for women if you deliberately exclude them or talk them down.
Women who help other women discuss the two camps often. When lists are drawn for potential female mentors, for example, there are always certain names crossed off immediately due to their reputation for being closed to women. These women can be charming, talented and highly successful. All are to be admired for their achievements. But they are unlikely to pull down the ladder for others.
I was approached by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Women In Media committee fronted by Caroline Jones and Tracey Spicer, ahead of the launch of a much-needed mentoring program for women. I agreed to be one of the mentors to kick off a wonderful initiative by a bunch of amazing women I have long admired. Women who have developed a reputation for showing the next generation of women, and also often their peers, the path to success. It’s an honour to be in their number and a bonus that we also get to help other women.
If you believe in Hell, Albright’s quote will stick with you. But it’s not the reason you should network with women who need you. Don’t do it out of fear or shame. You should do it because gender diversity at the leadership level has proven to be positive for business and because increasing the quantity of successful females role models is necessary for future gender equality.