Erin and I sat down in the conference room of my office and started to discuss some options for the Women and Networking series (in case you missed the intro you can find it here). The brainstorming session went on when she looked at me at said, “I would like to reverse this where instead of you asking me questions on networking, I would like to ask you questions on networking. “ Below is more or less the exchange that was covered. I wanted to keep this as raw as possible because the end made a profound impact on how I view networking and uncovered some things that need to be addressed.
Erin: I know you’ve already talked in previous blogs about what is networking, but for the sake of new readers, how do you define networking?
Danny: I like to keep it simple. It’s the exchanging of ideas or thoughts. It doesn’t require a specific event or a certain number of people. Networking is simply two people exchanging information and moving something forward.
E: Okay, I like that and I think it makes sense.
Danny: What does networking mean to you?
E: Networking to me is a relationship among friends, family, co-workers, community members, etc. that provide us with unbiased feedback, diverse perspective, and opportunities in which we can learn and grow. Next question, how many networking groups do you belong to?
D: Probably six or seven if you count specific groups that meet regularly for the sole purpose of networking as we’ve defined it. I’m involved with the Chamber, I have some networking groups where the specific objective is passing leads, and then I have other coffee groups and organizations that I belong to.
E: Great, way to use those networking skills! How many of those groups are men only or only have men in them?
D: That’s a good question. Of the six to seven that immediately jumped to mind, I would say at least three of them are either men exclusive or currently only have men in them. Why do you ask?
E: We’ll get to that in a bit (she smiled and kind of winked at this point). Do you know if your wife belongs to any groups?
D: Yeah, she’s in a couple in her school and also outside of her place of work.
E: Okay, and how many of those are women only?
D: Only one that I’m aware of. She belongs to the town Sorority.
At this point in the conversation the light was starting to go off inside my head and I knew Erin could sense it was coming. I turned to her and asked –
D: Okay, now I’m curious, what about you? How many networking groups do you belong to and are any of them women only?
E: Wait, one more question and then I promise I’ll answer yours.
D: Okay, go ahead.
E: Why do you belong to those groups?
D: Well, the easy answer is business development but I know you’re not going to let me take the easy route.
D: The complex answer? Most of them are a type of mentoring or personal development group. I’m surrounding myself with individuals who I aspire to be like or who I hope to emulate. One of those groups is incredibly influential in my life and has formed into more of an accountability group. They helped me finish my book, they pushed me to get my MBA, they really helped mold me into who I am today. It really is kind of a safe place for me to bounce ideas and grow. (There was a long pause here and I digested everything we had been discussing). Wait, do women really not do this or organically organize this?
E: No, at least not in my experience and with the people I know.
This moment in our conversation was staggering. Over the past several years I have watched the Des Moines community start to add female only groups. Lead like a Lady, LEAP, Elevate, and many others have come on the scene and proclaimed loud and proud to be in place for women to network, to grow, and to have a place to come together.
Part of me, whether I like to admit it or not, had in the back of my mind, “Why are these groups needed? Why are so many women’s only groups being created right now? There are so many opportunities to get connected in this community, why are these additional groups part of the conversation?” I can even remember on one occasion listening to Carole Chambers with the West Des Moines Chamber explain that Elevate, the women focused networking group created a couple years ago, was around to give women the opportunity to have something that guys had just always had – a boys club.
In the moment with Carole that comment didn’t make sense to me. The reality of talking with Erin in the conference room brought so much clarity to all of the questions I had been asking and to Carole’s statement. These groups, these opportunities were being created because they had never existed before and they were filling a void I had personally never experienced. However, if you know Erin at all, you would know she wasn’t finished yet.
E: But here’s the thing, Danny. I think it’s good that these women centric networking groups are being created and exist and I think they serve a very needed purpose, but…
We’ll keep you hanging until the next blog in the series – What is Networking, Part 2. Do you have thoughts on what we’ve discussed up to this point? Send us a message or leave us a comment. We both want an open dialog and understand the only way we can continue to grow is to hear from you. Please share with your networks if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far and thanks for reading!