Building a New Girls' Network
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Marivic Dar, financial services manager
Something major is happening. Women everywhere are mobilizing — themselves and each other — to get into the community, grow their contact lists and build meaningful relationships to advance their careers.
This new age of wahine networking is a far cry from your mother’s Tupperware parties. It’s a powerful movement forged around making connections, establishing trust and helping others succeed while achieving your own professional, personal and civic goals. While some feel networking is just another buzzword, others suggest it could be the key to shattering the infamous glass ceiling once and for all.
Until 1987, women were not allowed membership in Rotary International, an organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian services worldwide. Today, women comprise almost 40 percent of the organization’s 2,048 Hawaii members. Similarly, the 157-year-old Pacific Club, Hawaii’s most prestigious social club, was male-only until 1984 and even kept the coveted card room off limits to women until 1990. Today, women constitute 25 percent of the club’s membership. But historical exclusion from the old boys’ network is what spurred the creation of some of the most recognized women’s organizations in Hawaii.
However, not all networks are created equal and, when it comes to meeting people and developing rapport, men and women usually have different styles. But women are taking traditional male methods — such as playing golf and meeting for pau hana drinks — and adding their own personal flair to get ahead and achieve their goals.
“We’re making major strides in the workplace, climbing that corporate ladder and proving that we can build our own networks — on our own terms with our own unique female style,” says Marivic Dar, who is a financial services manager for The Prudential Insurance Co. of America and also serves on the board of the YWCA Oahu. “I think women are natural leaders, so this thing — the new girls’ network — is all about promoting our strengths and developing great women leaders. If you ask me, it’s about time!”
Dar isn’t the only one who is excited.
“I think the new girls’ network is alive and well,” says Kimberly Miyazawa Frank, president-elect of the Junior League of Honolulu. “I think women respect the value of relationships and are cognizant of the fact that we have to support each other so that we, collectively, can get ahead because it is very competitive out there.”
The Junior League of Honolulu is an 85-year-old organization of women committed to public service. Although business networking is not its primary function, Miyazawa Frank says, it’s inevitable when you gather smart, community-minded women.
“Just by virtue of who our members are, the networking is very strong and the relationships are also very strong,” says Miyazawa Frank, a communications consultant. “Our members call on each other when they’re looking for jobs, services or support, so those connections are like an added value for our members.”
But networking is not just about going to an event, shaking hands with strangers, getting quick information about them and then expecting to make something happen right then. “I think women tend to operate in networks and in webs in a more flat, lateral way, as opposed to the more pyramid structure, which is more hierarchical,” says Miyazawa Frank. Take your time, build trust and get to know the individual before you consider them a reliable source for business referrals, that’s the secret.
Dar says that’s what differentiates the way women network from men. Similar to the hunter-gatherer distinction, she says, most women don’t start a conversation with someone they’ve just met by talking about hard business. “It’s about relationships first, then business,” she says. “Women are very relationship oriented and we want to get to know the person, and that’s what makes our bonds so meaningful.”
Christine Lau, the immediate past-president of the Junior League, likens the different networking styles of men and women to shopping. “It’s kind of like how a lot of men just want to go into the store, pick something out and buy it,” she says, laughing. “Women, we like to go in there, look around, take our time, try things on to see if it’s a good fit and then we may or may not buy it. Many of us approach networking the same way.”
Whatever the approach, Dar says, the most important element of networking is identifying your purpose. “It’s not just a way of being social and throwing yourself out there; have a goal so you can measure your success,” she says.
For example, before going to a networking event, search the Web for the organization. “Find out who the president is or identify exactly who you want to meet even before you arrive,” Dar suggests. “Then, find out what other organizations these people are involved with; what colleges they went to; what are some of their other interests, so that when you meet them, you’ll instantly have something to talk about.”
It’s good to be friendly and meet a variety of people, but do that after you’ve fulfilled your purpose, she says.
Linh Lopez, a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley, has a different view. “I think women can fulfill their social, civic and professional goals by not taking [networking] events too seriously.” For her, if the sole purpose of attending an event is to fulfill a specific networking goal, it becomes more like work and less fun.
Miyazawa Frank says it took her several years to learn how to be effective at networking. “When I was really young, I thought the strategy was to go out and just shake hands,” she says. “So my friends and I would go to these Chamber of Commerce events and we’d have competitions to see who could collect the most business cards that night. And that’s OK for a young person because you don’t really know anybody and you’re new in the field. At the very least, it does build confidence.”
Fast forward 20 years and Miyazawa Frank says networking is not about quantity, it’s about quality interaction, which also allows you to create and market your own personal brand.
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