May 15, 2013

News & Opinion: The Power of the Circle

By: Sally Haldorson @ 1:25 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Two conversations I had last week got me thinking about networking. ➻ The first was during a brainstorming meeting with Jon, our general manager, about our annual author conference. The meeting ended with a discussion on the value of mentoring, and the predominance of books that advocate for the practice. ➻ The second was over a drink with a friend who was joking about the state of her golf game. When I commented that I had no desire to learn the sport, she explained that she works in an industry in which golf is still an elemental aspect of networking. She challenged herself with learning the game in large part to not miss out on opportunities to build relationships. I hadn't really come to any conclusions beyond this one: networking can be difficult. Showing up at local events to shakes hands and pass business cards isn't for everyone. Nor is putting a little white ball into a hole. Asking for help, confiding your struggles, taking advice: none of these things come particularly naturally for business people who often strive to appear efficient, in control and decisive. But maybe these are all just requirements of networking that are gradually becoming archaic. Pamela Ryckman, author of Stiletto Network: Inside the Women's Power Circles That Are Changing The Face of Business, would agree that it's time for women to look a little differently at networking.
I'll admit I didn't know what to make of this book initially. Reading through the publisher copy, I was perplexed by the celebration of networking groups of women with names like the "Power Bitches"; "Brazen Hussies"; and the "S.L.U.T.S." (Successful Ladies Under Tremendous Stress). It's not that I'm humorless about language exactly. It's more that I'm skeptical of the efficacy of a minority group reappropriating derogatory language in order to re-empower that word and, as a result, that group. Is it attention getting? Sure. Is it a way for a group of women to be defiant in the face of continued discrimination? Possibly. But, to me, it can also be confrontational and limiting. And because this is my personal preference, I wasn't sure I could enthusiastically recommend this book. That was before researching the author, Pamela Ryckman. She herself describes the book this way: Stiletto Network is a story of female friendship—disguised as a business story, a tale of women banding together to improve lives and companies and communities, to achieve their destinies and change the world. This 'elevator pitch' is warm, positive, and powerful--just like the author herself. Spend some time with Pamela Ryckman by watching the video below, and I think you'll find yourself excited in a whole new way about networking. Delving into the book, you'll find the material within just as inviting and optimistic. In Stiletto Network, Ryckman recognizes a new power trend in business: women banding together to bust through those barriers that continue to impede an individual woman's progress. She offers examples of real-life women who have found networks and mentors to help them get further faster.
While Shauna Mei [founder of AHAlife, a women-centric shopping site] seems remarkable, she is not an outlier. Increasingly, behind aspiring women entrepreneurs stand older female mentors and investors. Many of these elders made it the old way--the hard way, the way with lots of battles--but they're now secure in their positions. Now that there's room for more women at the top, they don't fear being displaced by the younger, newer model. They can breathe. And after forty years of women in the workforce, isn't it easier, not to mention more fun, when 'you or me' becomes 'you and me'?
Despite the book advocating gender comradeship, Ryckman makes it clear that gender isn't really the most important thing. "Gender alone won't qualify any woman for membership in the club. For Stiletto Networks to be relevant and desirable, they must be rooted in shared experience and true sympathy--which means they must have some form of exclusivity." Exclusivity is a difficult word to use in relation to minorities, and more precisely, for women. Exclusivity can act similarly to discrimination. It brings to mind "cliques" and "hierarchy" and being the last kid picked for gym class. Ryckman defends the requirement of exclusivity by clarifying that extreme inclusiveness can just cause these individual circles to get watered down and less effective. Ryckman also stresses that these networks should not become "mentoring programs" because they easily become imbalanced with young women outnumbering the experienced. Stiletto networks, she says, work best when peer-to-peer. So is the answer to the oppression of women in business the exclusion of men? No, Ryckman says.
For occasional bonding trips, segregation might make sense. But on a day-to-day basis, men and women need to mix and...prepare to play on coed teams. It's happening, as more boys are raised by mothers who work (yet are still involved and loving), as men strive to create opportunities for their daughters, as husbands slowly increase their share of duties at home, and as boys and girls collaborate in school. Men and women are starting, just now, to meet in the middle.
And if it takes women circling together to make their presence in business undeniable, then the added benefit, Ryckman rejoices, is that these women will enjoy the journey, and maybe even the battle, all the more because they are doing it together.

About Sally Haldorson

Sally Haldorson's job as 800-CEO-READ’s General Manager is to make 800-CEO-READ a great place to work for our employees, and a consistently high-performing customer service organization for our clients, authors, and our partners in the publishing industry. In addition to her General Manager duties ensuring collaboration, integration, and quality, she reads, writes, reviews, curates, and edits for the company. Helping craft The 100 Best Business Books of All Time used parts of both skill sets. Outside of work, she is most likely to be found hitting a tennis ball around or hanging out with her boys (husband, child, dog) at home.