How Women Can Unleash the Power of Strategic Networks

Strategic NetworksMarch 20, 2017 One of the most powerful moments for me this year was to participate in the Chicago Women’s March on January 21, 2017. The peaceful, positive and upbeat feeling of female solidarity made me forget for a moment why we were there: because many women don’t support confident female leaders.

This “Hillary Effect” remains an unconscious bias elephant in the room that is the corporate world – its acknowledgement scarcely makes the diversity and inclusion agenda. Case in point: LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company found in their “2016 Women in the Workplace” study that women who negotiate their salary are 30 percent more likely than men to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy”.

What if we could sustain the inspirational power of the Women’s March to find more ways for women to purposefully help each other advance in business, leadership, and entrepreneurship?

One way to do so is to build and nurture strategic networks, an activity men tend to engage in more naturally than women according to research conducted by Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD Business School.

“We need different networks for different purposes. You need to think strategically: ‘If I want to do this, then I need this kind of network.’ … There are ways of thinking very strategically about building a network, just like you would think strategically about a chess game,” advises Marie-Anne Slaughter in a recent Knowledge @ Wharton podcast.

Here are three examples of strategic networking scenarios that apply especially to women:

You have been out of the workforce because you raised your kids and took care of the family.

You want to re-enter the workplace, but possibly in a more flexible way. A solution: The Mom Project is a digital talent marketplace and community that connects professionally accomplished women with companies for project-based, maternityships™, or full-time career opportunities. The network currently boasts 10,000 members who not only are joined in the quest to find a re-entry to their career, but also a way to support each other and change the way moms re-integrate into the workplace.

You want to accelerate your path to top leadership roles.

Strategic networking, sponsorship, and mentoring opportunities are the way to go. Solutions: Our recent™ collaborators, Megan McCann of ARA Mentors and Molly Louthan of 2020 Women on Boards are doing some amazing work in connecting women in technology leadership and increasing the number of women on corporate boards. Our workshop on women in leadership brought together leaders (men and women) and resulted in some powerful takeaways. One female leader committed to paying it forward in this way: I believe women in top leadership roles need more visibility – in and outside of organizations.  Younger women need role models they can see… As far as solving the problem of attrition at all levels in the pipeline – I am currently pursuing possible ideas around how the system can change to level the field. What can we do from a performance/readiness-to-promote assessment perspective, or possibly a quantitative perspective (making sure women aren’t isolated as only female member of team) to support change?”

You are an entrepreneur and trying to build your business ecosystem.

Research shows that high quality networks are key for entrepreneurial success – especially for women. Solutions: Chicago’s 1871 WiStem is an accelerator for female tech entrepreneurs providing access to investors, mentoring, and support from a cohort of like-minded entrepreneurs. Don’t have a support system like that in your city? Build your own network! I recently founded a networking group of five Chicago women entrepreneurs who all provide HR services (tech, staffing, coaching, consulting). One of our main areas of focus is to determine how we can become each other’s extended sales and business development team building on research that women are more comfortable promoting someone else’s services.


What ideas or best practices can you share for how women can become each other’s allies and supporters – through strategic networking or other means? Join the conversation on Twitter via hashtags #talentcoffee #womeninleadership.


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Nicole Dessain is a talent management and HR “nerd”. She loves to blow up long-held believes that stop us from preparing our organizations for the future of work. Nicole feels lucky to have had an amazing corporate HR and consulting career that she recently has turned into her own business, talent.imperative inc. What can be better than helping clients build talent.driven organizations? Her second, non-profit business, DisruptHR Chicago, was launched in 2016 and has inspired more than 500 HR professionals in the Chicago area. And this is just the beginning…

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