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A Better Way to Network for Women?

“Networking is my idea of hell.”

These are the exact words spoken by a woman attendee at a recent event where I gave a talk about the importance of networking.

Her sentiments are echoed by many professional women who have experienced a traditional networking approach, which is:

a) based on entering a crowded room full of strangers and making small talk

b) scheduled on evenings and weekends, making it impossible to fit in around family commitments and

c) centred on male-oriented activities like rugby and golf

No wonder so many women shudder when they’re told they need to “network” in order to advance their careers. What’s more alarming is that this approach doesn’t even work for us. A recent HBR article, Why Networking More is Bad Advice For Women,” dissects several research studies which prove that standard approaches to getting ahead fail women – and can even backfire. The article’s author, Sarah Green Carmichael, concludes: “To me, the upshot of all of this research is increasingly clear: we need to stop telling women to follow a male playbook.”

What if women rewrote the playbook?

Clearly, there has to be a better way. But what does “good” networking look like? How can we make it more palatable to – and productive for – professional women. Here are five strategies that have worked for me:

1. Start with giving

The key to successful networking for women is adapting a completely different mindset: one that is based on giving vs. getting.   The famous law of reciprocity! A Fast Company article, “A Networking Paradigm Shift: Focus on Giving Not Taking,” explains it quite well: Networking from a giving rather than a getting perspective is “a much more empowered way to think about your career: It forces you to realize that you are not a needy person who has to rely on others to succeed, and focuses on the many things you have to offer the world.”

2. Join a women’s networking group

By design, many women-centric networking groups provide a supportive environment and operate according to the “give vs. get” philosophy. At Cisco, I’m the global and EMEAR co-lead for Connected Women, a global community at Cisco formed by volunteers to attract, develop, retain, and celebrate talented women as part of a competitive and diverse workforce.  It isn’t an “HR initiative” – it’s run by women who all have a day job and who give up their time to proactively share experiences and to help and support other women.

Another terrific women’s networking resource is WeAreTheCity, a website and organisation that promotes female-related networks, events, and training in the UK. In a recent BBC Radio 4 interview, WeAreTheCity’s Founder Vanessa Vallely offered this advice:   “Don’t put too much emphasis on the word networking. It’s the art of having a conversation with someone and being inquisitive and getting to know them.”

3. Embrace digital networking

Many women who don’t enjoy traditional in-person networking are absolutely daunted by digital networking. But this need not be the case – especially if you take a “what can I give/what can I learn” stance.

Using social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook is a brilliant way to surround yourself with supportive, varied, and incredibly knowledgeable people –not just people who can “deliver.” Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, has just published a great article “Who’s afraid of Digital Networking? Women?”. She advises us “what works in-person also works online.  So when you approach the social world, put aside your fears and misconceptions and remember that there’s a person behind every worthwhile social media account”.

In fact, a diverse network may be critical to generating innovative ideas, according to a new recent study on Twitter conducted by MIT’s Sloan School of Management.   Another study, by Facebook’s data team, shows that it’s easier than ever to find and make connections with interesting people – regardless of where in the world they’re located.

The takeaway? People are on social networking platforms because they want to share. There’s very little small talk. And, because you can do it wherever, whenever, it may be a better fit for working mothers.

4. Stay in touch

Everyone has a pre-existing network of colleagues, former classmates, and industry acquaintances. But, like any relationship, your network needs attention in order to thrive. So stay in touch with people – through both physical and virtual means – on a regular basis, not just when you need something.

Connect with people on LinkedIn to see what they’re up to. Have drinks with people you used to work with. Go to your university reunions – or give talks at alumni events. Retain the mind-set of having conversations instead of extracting favours. And remember – treat people well, up and down the food chain. After all, your former employee could be your next boss.

5. Perform random acts of kindness

To be successful at “give-driven” networking, you have to actually care about other people’s success instead of just your own – and you have to show it. Strengthen your network through small, day-to-day acts: help head-hunters when they call, recommend people on LinkedIn, tweet about people’s books or blog posts, send a congratulatory note to someone who received a promotion or started a new job.

This process does not have to be overly time consuming. Keep your finger on your network’s pulse with a service like Newsle (now part of LinkedIn) – it scans your contacts and notifies you when someone you know is “in the news.” Random acts of kindness have a boomerang effect – the goodwill you extend will eventually come back to you.

Where to from here?

Personally, I’ve always placed huge value on networking and have made the effort, even when sometimes I didn’t feel like doing so. The kind of ‘old-style’ networking that is driven by uncomfortable, inconvenient, needs-based transactions quite frankly is my idea of hell too. So let’s invent a new way of networking that doesn’t fill us with dread, based on supportive, dynamic, relationship-building interactions. Sounds much more like my cup of tea. What do you think?

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Becoming a Woman of Impact

Be Fearless! That was the theme of an incredible Cisco Women of Impact Conference last week, and like most of the 4,850 people joining from about 80 sites around the world, I came away inspired and energized by all I heard and learned during the day.  We came together as women (and men) that wanted to learn, connect and share ideas on how we could personally make a bigger impact.  I know I took home many new ideas and many new friendships.

I’m very proud and extremely fortunate to be the EMEAR executive sponsor of Connected Women.  The Women of Impact day is one of our key events – designed to provide ideas and insights, help women connect, and encourage them—no, all of us—to reach for more.  It’s a powerful reminder of the power of diversity in our business.

So, what does it mean to be fearless?

First of all, it’s about going beyond fear.  It’s about recognizing fear when it crops up (and believe me, it will), and then having the courage to set it aside and to move forward, whatever the obstacles.  Effective leadership often means stepping into the unknown, disregarding fear and focusing on how you can make an impact.

Read More »

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Women of Impact’s 2015 Fearless Female: Olivia Shen Green

Christine MorgnerGuest Blog and Interview by Christine Morgner

Olivia Shen Green was a valued member of Cisco for 8 years in various organizations including Supply Chain Management, Acquisition Integration, and the Office of Inclusion & Collaboration Group.  Recently Olivia left Cisco to pursue another opportunity.

During Olivia’s fearless pursuit to Connect, Empower, & Inspire women in the technology world, she founded the first women’s conference at Cisco.  In part, Olivia’s inspiration came from her mentor and manager at the time, Sonar Thekdi. Olivia credits Sonar as being a role model for how to be your authentic self.   Sonar had her back when the Women in Technology Forum was just a dream and assisted in securing senior leadership approval.

Olivia gathered passionate and outstanding leaders throughout Cisco Read More »

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Women of Impact’s 2015 Fearless Female: Annella Heytens

Roxanne EdwardsGuest Blog and Interview by Roxanne Edwards

At the Women of Impact Conference this year on March 19th, our focus is to empower attendees to Be Fearless – by taking risks, overcoming obstacles and blazing new trails in their personal and professional lives. The Conference focus is to connect, develop and inspire the women in technology at Cisco.

Learn why Annella Heytens, Vice President of Human Resources, APJC is our next featured Fearless Female.

We are impressionable at a very young age. The examples set by others can be inspiring and guide us in many directions.

Annella grew up in the Philippines and was inspired by her mother and grandmother who were both well educated women.   Annella’s mother was a nutritionist, and Annella followed in her footsteps. She holds Master’s degrees in nutrition and dietetics, but Annella is now Vice President of Human Resources and is responsible for 21,000 employees in over 18 countries. How did she get there?

Years ago, Annella’s then husband took a job in China and they relocated from Washington, DC. Annella, being a fearless female, interviewed for a human resources position without having any experience at all in the field. Annella assumed caring for people as a nutritionist or working for a retirement community developer wouldn’t be too far from a human resources function. The hiring manager took a risk on Annella, as she sensed Annella had the required skills and capabilities to master the job. Annella eventually became a managing consultant for one of the largest human resources consulting firms in the world in Beijing. Within three years under Annella’s leadership, her division became profitable for the first time.

Annella Heytens Photo

Annella is constantly paying it forward. She believes in taking a risk with others. Annella has influenced the hiring of many local leaders in AJPC. If they are motivated and have leadership capabilities, she’s willing to take a chance.

Annella loves to travel. She selects a new location every year for the family vacation. She enjoys champagne, chocolate and cheese (yes at the same time).

Have you registered for the Women of Impact Conference yet? It’s only 4 days away. For more conference details or registration information, click here:

Read about our other #FearlessFemales here and check out our #BeFearless #CiscoChat on Twitter.

Share with us with your stories and pictures how you can Be Fearless, tweet us @Cisco_WOI or find and Like us on Facebook on the Cisco Empowered Women’s Network Facebook page! Don’t forget to use the #WOI2015 hashtag!

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Women of Impact’s 2015 Fearless Female: Esther Roure Vila

Roxanne EdwardsGuest Blog and Interview by Roxanne Edwards

At the Women of Impact Conference this year on March 19th, our focus is to empower attendees to Be Fearless – by taking risks, overcoming obstacles and blazing new trails in their personal and professional lives. The Conference focus is to connect, develop and inspire the women in technology at Cisco.

We have all been inspired by various individuals throughout the different stages of our lives. Esther, an Engineer on the Data Center solution team, has been motivated by admiring the examples set by others. As a matter of fact, Esther considers Monique Morrow, another Fearless Female nominee for the 2015 Women of Impact Conference, as someone she holds in very high regard.

Esther’s dedication to her profession has led her to be named as the European Digital Commission Woman of the Year. Esther holds many Read More »

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