Building a New Girls’ Network

July, 2009

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.

 

Dar’s goal is to be top of mind whenever anyone needs help with financial services or sales. “I want that to be my brand: Marivic Dar from Prudential.” She says everyone should try to excel in at least one thing that can help brand them, but cautions, “Be careful what your brand says about you, and make sure you can deliver on what you promise.” The best thing to do, she says, is be yourself.

Miyazawa Frank’s desire to help others is the key to her networking success. “One of my personal mantras is that you give first and maybe you get later. Maybe,” she says. “And that applies in my professional life and my personal life. I think I always try to approach anything with, ‘What can I do; how can I get involved?’ And if there is a professional opportunity that comes of it, that’s great, but it’s not usually the first thing that’s on my mind.”

The women agree that networking isn’t just about schmoozing and selling yourself — it’s about listening. “You have to listen,” Dar emphasizes. “You can still make an impact when you’re quiet. It shows that you’re intelligent enough to just listen. I don’t try to pretend that I know something when I don’t. We all know people like that who just want to be a part of the conversation and don’t want to seem unintelligent so they pretend to know about something when it’s clear that they don’t. That’s worse than just being quiet. You have to be confident, but not cocky and aggressive. If you’re genuine, people will observe that about you. Being respectful, that’s also huge when networking. You have to make people feel comfortable and try to find common ground.”

Morgan Stanley’s Lopez thinks it’s easier to find common ground when you’re associated with an all-wahine organization. She participates in the Wahine in Hawaii Business at Laniakea Leadership Series at the YWCA and likes that women of all professional levels gather to learn from and support one another.

“I’m not sure if it’s because the events are attended by mostly, if not only, women, but it is much less intimidating than other networking events that I have been to. There is definitely a sense of genuine support, and I think it’s because most of the women who attend understand how difficult it is to succeed in businesses that are often male-dominated environments.” But, she adds, “Don’t get me wrong, I can spar with the best of the boys, but somehow, in a women’s-only organization, it feels like it’s less about showing off and more about ‘How can I help?’”

Dar, who belongs to and enjoys both women’s groups and mixed-gender groups, suspects many women feel more comfortable sharing their ideas in the absence of men. “It’s the same concept as all-girls schools,” she says. “It’s not as competitive and I think we might have more shared interests and common ground than if it were a group of men and women.”

Any group — colleagues, soccer moms or friends from your ceramics class — can be a network. And depending on what kind of expertise or help you need, you might tap a different network. Ing says she maintains a separate “network” folder in her email program specifically for the various groups she’s developed informally over the years, which include classmates from high school and law school, nonprofit contacts, hula sisters and other women executives.

Last year, Ing’s network grew when she met Joanna Amberger, the CEO of 3 Financial Group, at the inaugural Wahine in Hawaii Business Forum at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The two hit it off and eventually partnered up for a presentation on local investment scams.

Technology is also making it even easier to connect with people from all over the globe. MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have become very powerful professional and social networking devices. The trick is finding what’s right for you.

In other cases, networking isn’t so structured and occurs even when you’re not aware. Lau says the Junior League allows her to make connections with women that she would probably never associate with in her career as an office manager for Island Veterinary Care. “You get to meet so many women from different backgrounds, and the great thing when you’re a part of an organization is that everyone is working toward the same goal,” she says. “I think that’s very powerful.”

Dar says she is proud and excited about all the great achievements women are making in male-dominated sectors and organizations. She acknowledges that women still have a long way to go to realize true equality in the workplace, but says, “We should also celebrate how far we’ve come. I am just so pleased that we are helping one another — not just ourselves — to move up, shatter that glass ceiling and mentor the next generation of women leaders. It says a lot about who we are and where we’re going. That’s what the new girls’ network is to me — joining together and being the best that we possibly can in any environment.”

Blazing the Trail

In 1987, KGMB newscaster Linda Coble, Congresswoman Pat Saiki and about 20 others became the first women members of the Rotary Club of Honolulu. Coble says their admission signified that women were finally cracking the glass ceiling. Coble went on to become the first woman president of Rotary of Honolulu in 1994 and then the first female district governor in 2000.

“I’ve been fortunate to meet many wonderful people through my involvement in Rotary and during my career as a journalist,” she says. “If you’re aggressive or trying to weasel into a clique that you think will be beneficial in your career, it’s obvious. My advice to other women out there is to just be yourself and be professional.”

It helps to find an association that shares your ethical standards and goals, she says. “It means you don’t have to perform, so the networking comes naturally.”

Get on Board

Nonprofit boards are where many executives use their skills to help the community and build influential networks. For instance, the board for the Women’s Fund of Hawaii is a who’s who of wahine business leaders, including Dr. Tyrie Jenkins, a prominent eye-care physician; Gwen Pacarro, complex manager for Morgan Stanley; Chenoa Farnsworth, partner of Kolohala Ventures; Judy Bishop, president of Bishop & Co.; and Prudential’s Marivic Dar.

The organization also has an impressive list of “Honored Sisters,” which recognizes women who continue to be advocates for women and girls. They include Piia Aarma, founder of Pineapple Tweed; Gail Mukaihata Hannemann, CEO of Girl Scouts of Hawaii; and Louise Ing, partner of the law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.

“It’s quite extraordinary,” says Adria Estribou, executive director of the Women’s Fund. “What are six degrees of separation when you have 27 of the most powerful and well-connected women in the state passionate about your organization?”

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Author:

Shara Enay