As you may have noticed from the side bar here, I recently launched 40 Women to Watch Over 40 an initiative to celebrate the achievements of over 40 women and give visibility to new role models. I just wrote a post about my journey getting there on Medium. You can read it here – To Disrupt You Need A Community. Enjoy and please share with any one you think would find inspiring. Finding a community of women was instrumental to my growth over the past two or three years and made the difference between dreaming and doing.
Today I’m sharing 3 lessons learned – or perhaps the things you can to do to build your community. People often say women are not as good as men at networking, which was always a surprise to me given how much we like to talk and share. So perhaps we need to think of it as building a community.
1. If you can’t find a supportive community at work…build your own.
I’m also constantly surprised by the criticism that women are fiercely competitive with others at work. It’s a shame. I have learned there are definitely women who like to be the only woman in the room and then there are those who want to pull other women up along with them. I see the former becoming a dying breed (I hope my own experiences are signs of a larger trend). So if you can’t find women at work that you can turn to for advice and props, find your own.
How? Many of the 20-somethings I work with ask me now I know so many people. It’s a process but it only takes being proactive. My journey started with going to a MediaBistro conference on the future of eBook publishing and forcing myself to sit at a table with strangers. And then pushing myself to say, “Hi, I’m writing a blog and potential book called 40:20 Vision”.
At that conference, amongst others, I met Laurel Touby, founder of MediaBistro and Douglas Rushkoff. One of whom I got to interview and the other who suggested another conference I should go to and people to meet. Buoyed by that experience and with Internet Week around the corner I signed up for an event and went to an Internet Week party…by myself. Again I forced myself to talk to one group of people, that led to the “Oh you should meet so and so” and more intros. Then it just dominoes.
Yes it is hard to go to things on your own, but once you start doing it, it gets easier. Going alone is better than going with a friend because it forces you to meet people. You have nothing to lose. If you don’t know anyone and don’t meet anyone you can just slip out unnoticed after wandering about a bit.
Research conferences, look at groups and the websites you follow for events they are sponsoring, check out meetups and then GO!
2. Talk about what you doing and what you are looking for next.
If you don’t say it no one can support you. So many 40-somethings talk about the ideas they had that they didn’t act on that now they have seen someone else go on to build a business around.
If you have a burgeoning idea, talk about it. Don’t be afraid of giving it away or secrecy. Of course there is nothing worse than hearing the, “oh my cousin has a business that is just like that” or I just say a book in the airport that is the same exact concept’. Yet it is good to know…up to a point. More often the case is that people respond and ask questions and maybe even give you a great build. It’s your early consumer testing. You can’t rely on it for validation but you can rely on it for motivation.
Tell everyone what you are doing or what you are looking for. You just never know. That first Internet Week party I went to came back to me two years later when I got an email from a woman who met a guy who I met that night who recalled what I was doing and suggested we meet. She found me and now we have worked on a few projects together. I was so surprised where she heard about me!
3. Ask just one person. That person will turn into another and another.
If you find even one person who shares your professional aspirations or who you connect with at an event, suggest forming a group to get things done. You’d be surprised how many women may be seeking the same thing. Then the two of you can define exactly what you want to get out of the group and can ask others based on those criteria. All you need is a space, a leader and to be consistent. Don’t let it fade from bi-weekly to monthly to gone. It doesn’t have to be 100 women, it can be four. There are larger groups you can join but you need at least one where you can be open about your doubts and fears and willing to be honest. You have to be ready to encourage the others to recognize their strengths and push them to do things they are afraid to do that will ultimately advance them.
One 20-something I met did just this. It was one woman who had an desire to find a community, and now it’s a group of 10 women who meet every two weeks. It’s not about having a drink; it’s about having an agenda. They asked me to come speak to them one night and I was impressed at their energy and focus. So many people don’t have follow through with the things they start.
When you have good follow through with your group that will lead to good follow through with your ideas. The Medium article is promoting the idea that community may be the difference between a road not followed and a new path. It is the impetus to action….or as one woman commented, “The inflection point between innovation and disruption.”