As Thanksgiving nears, I am reminded of how grateful I am for women who paved the way for me. From Sojourner Truth to Gloria Steinem, I appreciate the blood, sweat and tears our foremothers sacrificed in their fight for women’s rights. I also appreciate the friendship and mentoring that has helped me every step of the way on my path.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “Sometimes, idealistic people are put off the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in Heaven. To succeed in this world you have to be known to people.”
I couldn’t agree more. One of my early mentors told me that I have an obligation to introduce two people to each other each day. That’s because she knew that networking is essential – not only to our success as individuals, but also to further our cause for women’s empowerment collectively. We need to expand our networks, mentor other women and constantly create new circles of collaboration to build the strength we need to be successful.
Networking is part of my listening tour. During a recent trip to Pittsburgh, I was able to meet with a host of women leaders, including the heads of women’s funds there and some of their grantees. Thanks to Ms. Foundation board chair Heather Arnet and board member Cathy Raphael, we were able to strengthen our ties to allies there. By making those connections in Pittsburgh, we’re going to be more effective as we continue our work for women throughout the country. Forging stronger relationships with women’s state and local funds will enable us to coordinate on campaigns and initiatives where our issues intersect, maximizing both resources and impact.
At a recent forum in New York, more than 200 people, mostly women, packed the room to learn about each other and workplace trends for women. While the forum was a venue to share information about the barriers women face at work, it also was an important opportunity to network. The crowd was a mix of people, and it gave the attendees a chance to make new connections to expand their personal networks. One thing I noticed was that while some of the women in attendance were keen to introduce themselves to new people, many did not. They hung back and listened – but they didn’t “work the room.”
My advice to all women: Make as many connections as possible. Build your personal network of contacts, friends and mentors. Do your bit to help another woman. All of us have something to offer; mentoring is not only for executives. After your first weeks on a job, there is always someone coming up behind you. Reach out and help her – even if it’s only to offer small bits of advice or information.
Don’t confine your networking to work. Whether you’re at the grocery store, a basketball game, community meeting or doctor’s appointment, don’t miss the opportunity to make connections. Be sure to use your connections to help the causes and organizations that you support.
Women account for a little more than half of the population. Imagine what we could accomplish if we all worked together. This month, try to make one new contact or mentor someone. Sisterhood truly is powerful – but only if we commit to helping our sisters.
The mission of the Ms. Foundation for Women is to build women’s collective power to realize a nation of justice for all.
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