How to turn your personal network into a professional superpower

Last week, we met with an incredibly successful entrepreneur. A while ago, she created a Venture Capital fund with the specific goal of investing in women founders. Venture Capitalists usually raise tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars from individuals and institutions, and use it to invest in high-growth companies. 

In the US, ninety eight percent of Venture Capital funding goes to men. There’s a whole range of reasons for this – from bias to representation – so women focused funds hope to balance the playing field (and generate outsized returns). Globally, there are around 10,000 Venture Capital funds with different investing criteria (think medical advances, education, social impact, space etc etc), and they all raise money in a similar way. So, years later, when this incredible entrepreneur was invited to invest in another fund, two facts hit her at once:

One: This was the first time she’d ever been invited in. Despite her success, she had never been shoulder tapped to participate in other Venture Capital funds. Meanwhile, her male colleagues were regularly presented with opportunities through their networks.

Two: Despite her own powerful network of successful women, she’d never considered inviting them in. Her friends were Ivy League educated executives – the exact target market for her fund. However, she’d completely overlooked them, and focused her fundraising efforts on people she only knew professionally.

Women are socialised to be relational, but we don’t relate our friendships with work 

We excel at building valuable personal relationships that boost our mental health, social connectedness and emotional well-being. But how often do you talk to your friends about work? No, we’re not including those times you vent about your annoying boss or colleague.

The Old Boys Club is powerful because men mix business and pleasure. We, however, tend to keep the two separate. Of all the gender differences, this is potentially the easiest one for women to fix on our own. There’s no structural change required for women to talk more about work.

What would happen if we turned our personal networks into professional ones?

One of our favourite things at Hatch was watching groups of women talk about money. The conversation would traverse new iPhones to microchips and apps, then a mention of Spotify would pivot the topic to celebrity gossip, which turned into politics, then back to investing. 

When we give ourselves permission, we have every ingredient required to have incredibly valuable conversations about our careers. In a fascinating, entertaining, and often humorous way. So what would change if we did it more? What if we regularly set aside an hour or two to share challenges, goals and opportunities with a close group of other women? 

Our early Powrsuit research highlighted a really interesting phenomenon: virtually every woman we spoke to who’d ‘made it’ (aka navigated her career on her terms), regularly met with a peer network. These groups of six to eight women had often shared decades of perspectives, connections and opportunities. This was almost always credited as a key ingredient to each individual’s success. 

Research backs it up – every ambitious professional needs to invest in development, however, women specifically get outsized benefit from regularly engaging with a small, trusted peer group of other women. We all know about the gender leadership gap – women face stronger headwinds in our careers. Having a peer group form part of our professional board of directors may just be vital to succeeding on our terms.

Every connection is actually a hundred

Within our Membership Network, we regularly bring together groups of 15-20 women to build relationships, share perspectives and hold each other accountable. When Kristen says the group represents thousands of connections, we often get baffled looks. But it’s true. Each of us is the gatekeeper to our own unique professional networks. Open that gate, and you reach each of theirs. The networking powr is exponential, and it’s right there in front of us.

How to make the first move

Think about your friends and colleagues. Are there one or two who are most similar to you in aspirations or career stage? Great. The rest is easy:

  1. Use your network: Send your two friends this article and ask them to each identify 1-2 more women to invite to a career-focused catch-up.
  2. Send out a calendar invite: for a time and location that suits you all. Preferably meet up in person (we’re social animals!). Host at your house with coffee or wine, or a restaurant, cafe, bar or park.
  3. Create an agenda: Ask everyone to bring one current career challenge. They’ll have a few minutes to explain it, then the group will discuss. Alternatively, pick a topic you’re interested in (returning to work after kids, dealing with workplace conflict, leadership skills) and have 3-5 questions for the group.
  4. Turn up and start talking: It’s ok to have a detailed agenda, or a loose one – but try to ensure you spend at least half the time on productive solutions, questions and actionable tips.
  5. Iterate and improve: Maybe it works, maybe it feels too structured (or not structured enough). Maybe next time you try a new group, smaller group, or different agenda. 

Whatever happens, don’t stop after one catch-up! Just like dating, you’re bound to run into awkward conversations, mismatches and nerves. Unlike dating, you’re not trying to find the love of your life – but you are trying to find your professional ride or dies. And when it comes to your future, these may be the most important relationships you can make.

30 second action:

Think of two friends who’s perspectives you value. Send them this article and ask if they want to try it out.

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