Why Women need Tribes?

Women’s networks and leadership programs are going through a
downturn it appears. Current thinking is “enough of fixing women,
it’s the workplace culture that needs to be fixed.” The trend is to
dismiss “Women Only” networks and development programs for not
having solved the problem of such few women in leadership
positions. It’s true that coaching and training women to step up, to
network, to influence, to advocate for themselves alone will not lead
to a magical increase in women leapfrogging into leadership roles.
And there is no doubt that the culture of the workplace that has
specifically evolved for men over the last couple of hundred years has
to undergo a radical shift if we are to see more women CEOs.
However I know from our experience that women only leadership
programs and networks are not past their sell by date. I have worked
closely with women across the globe for the last two decades,
graduated 600+ women through our Women in Leadership
programs, mentored and run networks for women, discussed and
brainstormed career challenges women face with global business
leaders, measured and analyzed mindsets and habits of women in the
workplace and know that my own career trajectory might have been
different had I known then what I know now. I have learnt that in
parallel with much needed organizational culture changes, gender-
specific networks and leadership programs for early and mid-career
women are critical in creating a talent pipeline and building stronger,
more successful businesses.

We all need both challenge and support to thrive in our careers.
While it is important for career success that we develop and expand
our networks beyond gender specific ones, there is equally the need
for constructive support from our tribes. This is not about networks
where women have casual get-togethers. It’s about the impactful
results of women having professional, outcome-based, structured
Support networks that leads to professional growth:

Many women like many men are ambitious and want professional
success. But women are socialized to not acknowledge their
ambitions. We tend to put our heads down, work hard and hope
recognition and reward will come our way. Yet our expectations and
ambitions are often never fully realized and rarely are our
internalized hurdles addressed in workplaces or leadership
programs. The most valuable aspect of our program for the women
we coach, is having a safe space to discuss and find solutions to
habits, mindsets and behavior challenges, along with acquiring and
practicing specific leadership skills. It’s a space where you are not
competing to be heard but where you learn to self-advocate. Our
program acts as a wake-up call. It combines peer learning and expert
coaching, along with structured and outcome-based content and has
resulted in participants putting themselves forward for promotions,
high risk, high visibility projects and leadership roles.

Support networks that leads to opportunities to advance:
Let’s face it – most of us find networking really stressful. And for
many of us, joining a women’s-only network is an easier way to start
practicing those networking skills. I belong to a couple of women’s
networks and hear many reasons why women love them. My favorite
one is being able to wear flat shoes and talk to folks without having
to crane your neck looking up! That fun fact aside, these networks
run events and master classes on professional themes that educate
and inform younger women, while giving them opportunities to
discover and meet senior role models and mentors. One of the key
reasons that women have difficulty putting themselves forward for
leadership positions is the lack of visible roles models in their
organizations. Building gender-specific Business Networks such as
the one I’m advocating fills that gap. Within these networks, role
models can guide younger women who aspire to leadership roles and
help them find sponsors and mentors, while providing opportunities
for senior women to give back and be reverse-mentored.

Support networks that develop a culture of collaboration

There is power and benefit in women banding together, not just for
individuals but for organizations too. Recently I was listening to a
podcast on why women have difficulty saying no – to non-promotable
jobs, office household chores, volunteering time on committees that
don’t lead to higher visibility or salaries, etc. The podcast guest said
she launched a ‘Say No Club” to address this issue in her workplace.
‘The club members are encouraged to document any jobs they did
that were not helpful for career advancement and when they meet,
the club determine if a member is doing more routine jobs than she
should, discusses how to say no without being seen as difficult and
encourages members to watch out for co-workers who were being
routinely volunteered for jobs that they were not hired to do”.
Women in Tech tell us that often they are perceived as being
excellent at administering, driving and delivering projects but are not
seen as visionaries who come up with great ideas or as the
knowledgeable expert capable of architecting a brilliant system. To
counter this perception, a group of women at a major Tech company
we partnered with banded together to form a study group that
helped them keep up with the latest research in their area of
software development. Each member read up on an assigned piece of
research and presented to the rest of the group on a weekly basis.
This was an efficient and productive way for the group to keep
abreast of the latest developments, contribute knowledgeably and
actively to their teams and build their visibility and technical
confidence. The last I heard their male colleagues wanted to be
invited to the group!
Another amazing support tool that comes to mind is “amplification” a
tool used very effectively by the women in President Obama’s inner
circle at the White House. According to the Washington Post (Sep 13,
2016), in Obama’s first term, two-thirds of his aides were men and
the women felt their voices were sometimes ignored. So they
adopted a meeting strategy called amplification. When a woman
made an important point, other women would repeat it while giving
credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to acknowledge
the contributions and not claim credit for ideas not their own. The
amplification strategy paid off as in Obama’s second term, there were
as many women as men in his inner circle.

Support networks that lead to renewed energy
Being a minority in work situations is challenging. Challenge by itself
is not a bad thing. We need challenges to stretch ourselves. But being
constantly challenged can be stressful. We need the power of our
community to know we are not alone in our experiences, learn from
shared wisdom and find a renewed sense of purpose and
commitment to our careers.