By: Eve Ashworth
Imagine women in business as a powerful band of advocates, collaborators and allies. Imagine women entrepreneurs who know how to leverage their innate strength, overcome barriers and build relationships that drive growth in their businesses and careers. Male networking is a given — golf, squash, attending sporting events — while cliché, these are serious business-building opportunities. By contrast, women pride themselves on multi-tasking but fail to build into their schedules the networking opportunities that men take for granted. The truth is that networking builds business. However, being a single female entity in a male-dominated room can, on occasion, be uncomfortable and doesn’t always yield business.
These problems are greatly reduced when women network with other women. It is important to be creative in networking. For example, I have for years brought together women entrepreneurs and executive friends for dinner, and it has been productive, comfortable and good for my creative and mental well-being. Shared interests among women provide mutual respect and invaluable sounding boards. My running partner of seven years is a savvy HR professional who has given me tremendous business insights through spending time with her.
Choose Female Role Models
Every female entrepreneur should make a serious “business role models” list. This list embodies leaders you admire from all walks of life — living or dead humanitarians, rule-breaking and risk-taking business leaders or writers of books that have changed history. The list must include women — women who led or lead by example and inspire you to reach for greatness. Who are the women on your list?
To female entrepreneurs, women leaders are more relatable, understanding your struggles as an entrepreneur. Like you, they have to juggle demands that can make them feel conflicted. Their example can help you find your path. Studying business role models helps make the difference between planning your visions and goals and achieving them. If you’ve formed a business plan but faltered on the path to carry it out, study role models and don’t be disheartened by life getting in the way.
Women who are successful are dedicated and focused, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t journeyed for 15-20 years to be where they are today. The people on your list help you to grasp and stay in touch with the process of success and the longevity of focus that is needed.
Study those in your industry, learn from them, adapt their techniques and do things on your own terms. Tina Brown is someone I have looked up to. I remember reading that she rarely attended events in the evening so she could be a mother. Through her, I realized that I did not have to do it all now and to bide my time. I could do a proper job of raising my family and still be successful by attending key events. Making the most of events I do attend means knowing who will be there so I can make an effort to connect with them.
Don’t be discouraged — everyone started somewhere and it’s taken a lot of time to get to where they are today. Be efficient and become very good at saying no.
Recently, I was fortunate to meet Brigadier General Cindy R. Jebb, Dean of the Academic Board, U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She was a member of the third women’s class and first women’s basketball team at West Point. And now, 40 years later, is the first woman dean of the academic board. She has maintained a happy marriage, raised three children and has been a member of the National Security Agency among other prestigious posts. She is a great example of how to combine dignity, discipline and humanity in a male-dominated industry.
Add Value Through Collaboration
Many of the relationships I’ve built over decades with women I admire in business have resulted from a committed effort to collaborate. My first boss is a resource to this day, and I am proud to say that sometimes she leans on me for my experiences.
As women build careers and businesses, it is not uncommon to connect with other female entrepreneurs on a personal level within minutes of meeting. However, it is necessary as you structure your go-to network/advisory committee to be selective. Advisory committees work for entrepreneurs who are working on a new idea, unique model or need a sounding board to help business growth. First, analyze your expectations for each open spot on your board, then think of how each might contribute to the success of your company. Another criteria for your committee is to choose women who are open, honest, enjoy connecting with others, help you look credible and are genuinely happy to contribute.
Right now, I’m in the midst of launching a software-as-a-service product. It’s been a bootstrap effort all the way, but throughout I’ve found women who’ve been highly receptive to the idea and product. They have helped introduce me up the line to people who were willing to give the product a chance.
Treat Women In Business With Respect
When interacting with any colleagues, especially women, I remember the great Henry James quote: “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Taking ownership of one’s actions and words will increase your business relationships and, in turn, affect the overall business landscape.
Brigadier General Jebb’s advice to women was never to earn a laugh or leg-up at another’s expense. No matter who my competition is, if they are good at what they do, I give them the respect they deserve.
My new friend, Savannah Guthrie, faced an absolute ordeal by fire when she had to announce the departure of her co-host, Matt Lauer, in November. By taking the high road, she earned some criticism but I feel that her grace and compassion spoke highly of her character and business ethics. After all, is that not what matters most?