Balancing work and family, unequal pay, the glass ceiling, sexual harassment. Women have had to contend with these issues in the workplace for a long time. Add to that what in today’s economy seems like the impossibility of even getting one’s foot in the door. For women who want to change jobs or get back into the workforce, answering ads or turning to an employment or search agency may be a dead end. Instead, turn to close, already established networks, and begin to form new alliances.
Men are quite adept at strategically using connections with family, friends, business associates and those in their professional, alumni and leisure club circles. Women tend to see connections they have with friends, women at the PTA or at the country club in relational terms. Yet, these are the people who are in a position to connect you to others. They can provide that crucial introduction or recommendation you need.
First decide what you want to do. Be realistic but ambitious. Enthusiasm is a key ingredient that may set you apart from others with similar skills and abilities. Aim high but be flexible. View each connection you have as a link in a chain that leads to your goal. Do the easy work first: tell family and friends what you want to do; ask if they know someone who can advise you. Be diplomatic. No one wants to be put on the spot–asked to call on a friend for a favor. Women are, however, happy to offer advice to other women.
When you encounter someone who can help you, discuss the possibility of changing careers or preparing for a new career. Ask for an informal, informational meeting that will take just a few minutes. This may just lead you to where you want to go. At the very least you will gain valuable information and perhaps be pointed to someone else who can help you more directly.
Take an inventory of the networks you already have: ask yourself “who do I know and what am I doing right now?” If you belong to a private club, attend church or temple, a book club, a parent’s group, go to events and participate in activities. Socialize as you normally would but talk about your aspirations. Try to broaden your circle within groups you already have access to. Be proactive. Volunteer. Create new activities for others to join.
If you don’t belong to the professional association of your targeted career, join it. Join your alumni club or association. It is perfectly acceptable to contact members who have the kind of position you are seeking. See each opportunity as a step further in your desired direction. Establishing networks is an investment. The “old boys’ network” was not created overnight. Think and act long term, but immediately draw upon connections you already have–they are your greatest asset, not only for interpersonal fulfillment but for professional success.
Credit: Veronica Manlow
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