Anne Doyle, Contributor
I write about making the leap from achiever to leader.
11/04/2012 @ 12:06PM |3,556 views
Mixing Business With Pleasure. Men Do It. Why Do Women Hesitate?
I just returned from a global women’s leadership conference that was packed with cutting edge content, world class thinkers and nearly 700 preeminent women from 31 countries. It was oozing with high-energy, classy, brilliant entrepreneurs, business owners, elected officials, scientists, PhDs, lawyers and thought leaders from every corner of the globe.
I returned home enriched, because the organization, founded in the early 1980s, never fails to deliver on its original purpose of bringing together global women of accomplishment “. . . to exchange ideas, to learn and inspire and to promote better leadership for a changing world.” A cutting edge vision for the late 20th Century.
However, the organization has one disturbing blind spot. It discourages – and sometimes actually blocks – members from doing business with one another. It’s considered bad taste or just plain gauche to “bother” members of this elite network by showcasing our products and professional services to one another.
One member told me, “When I was invited to join, I was specifically told that we are not allowed to do business with one another — that I could actually be kicked out if I crossed that line.”
There is so much wrong with that attitude — which is all too common among our gender — that most men would laugh if we tried to explain it. Discouraging women from actively leveraging our networks to achieve our professional and business goals ties one hand behind our backs.
Even worse, it limits our ability to develop the 21st Century ground game we need now to achieve our lofty visions of women ascending to leadership roles. Those visions will remain merely dreams until women begin collectively building our economic and political power.
I recently heard a very successful male business executive tell an audience of women, “Your network is your net worth. When men get together we talk about two things: sports and doing business with one another.” (Of course there’s a third favorite topic of men, but let’s not go there.)
The Brotherhood has been a well-oiled machine for centuries. As fiercely as they compete with one another, males also do business with, open doors of opportunity for and pay more to members of their own tribe. When men serve on non-profit and corporate boards together, before you know it they’re doing business with one another. That rarely happens with women.
Here’s another example. Women are graduating from law schools in record numbers and make outstanding lawyers and judges. Yet, the number of women equity partners in law firms is pathetically small. The biggest stumbling block is women’s rainmaking track record. Too many of us are still fish out of water when it comes to landing big clients and bringing in business.
In Plutocrats, Chrystia Freeland’s new best-seller, one ultra successful, global businessman told the author, “Women don’t have the royal jelly. They don’t want to fight. They won’t go for the jugular.” Going for the jugular is not what I’m espousing. But there’s an element of truth in those words.
The biggest thing holding women back right now is ourselves. Our reluctance to openly display ambition. To ask women in our networks to do business with us, or help us crack executive positions. To urge our corporations — particularly when we’ve achieved positions of influence — to more actively seek contracts with women-owned companies.
Women are natural networkers. Relationships are our forte. But we’re still in kindergarten when it comes to understanding how to turbo-charge our networks to help us accomplish our economic, professional and political goals. And to help other women do the same.
We can overcome this Achilles Heel by looking in the mirror every day and start asking ourselves,
- Who in my network can I refer business to?
- How many women lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and business owners do I know? How often have I referred business to them? Big business.
- How can I raise my voice in my own circles of influence to be a visible and vocal advocate for strategically investing in women’s economic success?
- How many women have I helped get elected to political office?
- What attitudes or traditions in organizations I belong to need to be re-considered for the 21st Century?
Talk is cheap. Action is messy. Risky. And, yes, sometimes uncomfortable.
It’s time for the Sisterhood to take another page from the Brotherhood’s playbook. You can start by giving a “sister” some business.
Anne Doyle is the author of POWERING UP! How America’s Women Achievers Become Leaders, a keynote speaker and a City Councilwoman in Auburn Hills, MI. She has been tested in multiple-leadership laboratories, including men’s sports locker rooms, the auto industry, political office and parenting (which she insists is “the toughest!). Signed copies of her book are available at: www.annedoylestrategies.com. facebook.com/poweringupwomenbook.
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