I got my first job after college through a friend. She’d graduated a year before me but came back for the next year’s graduation. When I told her I hadn’t found anything yet she had me email my resume over, then gave it to the right people.
I didn’t realize it, but it was my first introduction to networking.
In my five years at that company I noticed a pattern. When my first boss was promoted he filled openings in his department with his friends. Every time he rose, the guys underneath him rose with him – often into positions that he created specifically for them. There was nothing wrong with this group of guys but none of them were particularly special, either. He even helped me when a competitor attempted to entice me away. “You don’t want to work for them,” he said, and found me a promotion elsewhere in the company.
Since then, throughout my career, I’ve noticed the same pattern. I’ve been at companies where a new CFO comes in and slowly (or not so slowly) replaces the senior management team with his crew. I’ve worked for men whose only real qualification to be a manager consisted of ‘white male who went to college with a higher up.’ Men do not appear to have any hesitation lifting their friends and cronies with them. But women do.
Whether it’s because we’ve been trained to view other women as competition or internalized the idea that there’s only room for one female face in the upper ranks, I’ve yet to see a female executive engage in the same behavior. Part of it could be that women are hypersensitive to not wanting to appear as if they’re playing favorites. Emotional, biased, touchy-feely, the attributes that are often viewed as feminine can be seen as a liability. Often, in order to succeed in business, a woman has to take on characteristics seen as ‘male.’ And she has far less margin for error when she’s the only representative of her sex in the room. A man can afford to hire and promote an unqualified friend. For a woman it can be a bigger risk.
But I think we need to start taking those risks.
As a divorced mom I’ve learned the value of my support network. Whether it’s friends who’ve helped out with hand-offs, babysitting, hand-me-down clothes, or just an ear to listen, I’d never have made it without them. And in my recent job hunt I called on my network again.
I never thought I’d say this but when it comes to our careers women need to start acting more like men.
Friends helped polish my resume and gave me interview tips. A woman I’ve known for over ten years passed it around her network. While her efforts didn’t lead me to my new job, I have no doubt that one of her contacts would have come through if it hadn’t. The balls had already started rolling. Others had me search job listings at their companies and were scouring them for anything that looked like it would be a fit.
I never thought I’d say this but when it comes to our careers women need to start acting more like men. Promoting our friends – whether it’s talking them up to a hiring manager or literally promoting them. Keeping an eye out when we know they’re looking for a job. Introducing Friend A to Friend B who works at a company that Friend B is targeting in her job hunt. If you’re in the position to hire someone, why not ask HR to provide you with a mix of resumes? Not just John, Mark, and Mike but Alyssa, Katie and Tajh.
And it’s not like companies don’t benefit from our presence.
One study found that “companies with the highest gender diversity, as compared to the industry average, see a much higher return on equity (10%), a higher operating result (48%), and a stronger stock price growth (70%). In addition, having at least one woman on the board decreases bankruptcy by a full 20%.” Study after study has shown that we’re good for business, if only because having a diversity of thought and experiences benefits the organization as a whole.
We are not behaving unfairly when we help other women in the same way men have been helping each other for decades. And it’s not just about breaking glass ceilings and becoming management. For many single and divorced moms, a good, stable job would be a huge help. Let’s expand our support networks beyond babysitting and hand-me-downs and start doing some real networking.
Women are capable of accomplishing great things when we work together. Let’s do great things for one another at work, too.
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