Okay, so “done” may be a bit of an overstatement. Perhaps “backing off” is a more appropriate phrase.
The invitation to this latest such event sat in my inbox for a week. It was for a “BIG” networking function, one which would feature workshops with top women small business owners and speakers. It would be an event not to be missed.
I thought about going. Then, I felt peer pressure, as dozens of my colleagues blew up the Facebook page for the event with RSVP’s. Finally, I did the only think that felt authentically right at this particular time for my business: I hit delete.
Women rule, but it takes two kinds of energy
I love being a woman. A self-professed “girly-girl,” I love being feminine, wearing perfume and frilly skirts, even the occasional flower in my hair. I love being pampered, doted on, and being called “ma’am.”
And when it comes to running my business, I do so in a way that magnifies my uniquely feminine traits: I am welcoming, exceptionally gracious, collaborative, and understanding. Often, I have been all these things to my own detriment, like when I let delinquent invoices linger too long or fail to adequately promote myself for fear of coming across as too pushy.
But there’s a time to be nice and there’s a time to be about business. I am one of those women who can sometimes get that confused.
After all, isn’t that how we’re conditioned? To be nice, accommodating, and non-offending? It starts in childhood and later, even after we’ve become business owners, with clients and full schedules and speaking engagements and everything we need to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all in hand, we still hold back, afraid to go full-speed ahead.
I think that sometimes, women-only networking events allow us to feel like we’re breaking out of that box, while they really encourage us to stay where we’re much more comfortable: around other people who are just like us.
Networking with women has its benefits. In fact, women have been, hands-down, my greatest champions, and I have some fabulous women clients. But there comes a point where I think you realize that if you’re really going to play big, you have to play with everyone–consistently, methodically, and strategically. Real success requires that we push through our comfort zones and venture into that space which not only makes us uncomfortable, but which may even terrify us.
That is precisely why I can no longer do women-only networking events. Here are just a few things I’ve learned from networking with men:
- Expectations equal results. Call it arrogance, confidence, or the result of being the benefactors of a largely patriarchial society: men expect that they’ll get what they want. In sports, they play to win. In business, they expect to succeed. In relationships, they expect that they’ll meet and marry the woman of their dreams, while women hope to find an ideal mate. Watch men, and you’ll see that expectations equal results.
- It’s all about audacity. A male friend said this to me years ago. He had come to this country 20 years earlier, broke, homeless, and barely able to speak English. Since then, he has read more than 2,000 books, earned a commercial pilot’s license, and run two successful businesses. Today, he is not only one of my best friends; he’s also my “audacity coach.”
- It’s business, not personal. Do you think Donald Trump loses one ounce of sleep after telling an unsuspecting apprentice, “You’re fired”? Doubtful. While so many women (myself included) would lose sleep over firing someone, a man would likely make it about business and keep it moving. He might even invite the man or woman out for a beer afterward.
Bernadette Boas, a client and author of Shedding the Corporate Bitch™, is doing wonderful work teaching women how to utilize their uniquely feminine soft skills and natural gifts to influence change, rather than resorting to manipulation and conniving to get ahead at work.
Like Bernadette, I believe that women should be gracious, supportive, and congenial in business. But I also believe the key to feeling empowered is to be willing — and excited — to shake hands, mix and mingle, ask for business and close deals, all while standing next to and toe-to-toe with the boys.