Many talk about the old boy’s network (here in the South it’s the good ole’ boy’s network) that helps develop, elevate and advance their peers. In the #MeToo environment, many think this network needs to be burned to the ground.

I personally think any network that develops and advances people is good, but perhaps we need more networks that help more kinds of people.

I met with Lisa Schiffman, the Brand, Marketing and Comms Director of EY Americas Growth Markets who helped launch EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women. Upon marking the 10-year anniversary of this group, she was understandably looking back and looking forward on what has led to the greatest success for women entrepreneurs.

What did women entrepreneurs need ten years ago?

Ten years ago was 2007, just before the market crash. Female entrepreneurs at the time may have been focusing on their business concepts, but they quickly needed to pivot to a broader degree of savvy as it related to funding and scaling in cutthroat times. They needed a network to help get them through.

At the outset of the EY Women program, they did a problem analysis to determine what was lacking for women entrepreneurs. Those things included:

  • There weren’t enough female entrepreneurs so they needed peer role models.
  • They didn’t have access to the networks needed to scale their companies.
  • The women were experts at ‘what they did’ but lacked the financial background or experience working with VCs and private equity.
  • In some cases, they weren’t thinking big enough. They may have been sitting on a gold mine, but they weren’t thinking big or bold enough.

Awareness is the first step to making progress

It seems for years everyone has talked about the problems and the lack of female representation on boards, in the C-Suite and among entrepreneurs. Awareness is the first step to changing the dynamic. But awareness is not enough.

It takes a plan to change the dynamics at play that have kept women entrepreneurs from breaking through. I don’t say ‘held them down’ because I’m an optimist, but without question, the infrastructure has been missing that would help women rise up.

Access to information, resources, and leadership

In the case of EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women, they picked a selection of promising entrepreneurs and brought them to the 2008 EY Strategic Growth Forum. They held a private lunch and introduced them to people that might help them. Some were looking for professional CEOs, some were looking for capital, and all of them were looking for support opening the right door to lead to their next stage of growth.

Schiffman says they underestimated the amount of community interest that would develop around these able, sharp women who lacked a network.

Ten years later they have 430 entrepreneurs in 50 countries now in the program. The diversity of industry, culture and stage of scale has added to the richness of the experience for the women who undoubtedly regard the EY network as instrumental in their growth.

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