For women, community is both the newest and oldest networking tool.
In the post-COVID moment, when we are all questioning how we do just about everything from ordering groceries to educating our children, traditional business networking simply doesn’t make sense.
Fortunately, the last few years have seen the rise of powerful virtual circles that serve, lift and empower women.
Networking as we know it is dead. And like so many other industries that we accepted as infallible, networking is ripe for disruption.
Imagine yourself standing in a hotel ballroom filled with men and women in homogenous suits, logo lanyards dangling from their necks, clipped with a pre-printed name tag tucked neatly inside a stiff plastic sleeve, polyester-skirted tables lining the perimeter of the room with eager corporate representatives anxious to draw you in, and a brick of business cards burning a hole in your purse as you attempt to spark conversation with a sea of nervously smiling professionals.
Even before our new social distancing norms, I would get hives just thinking about networking events like this.
The old and tired model of filling a room with industry-specific professionals and letting them loose like bulls in a ring does only one thing: It rewards outgoing, confident and assertive professionals, but ultimately stifles most.
It also creates a huge barrier for women because, as we have come to discover, this is not how women naturally network.
Historically and not all that long ago, women shared child-rearing responsibilities (“it takes a village”), they hunted and gathered together, wove together, quilted together, created meals together, prayed together and were each others’s pillars of strength when navigating the day-to-day challenges of their lives.
When looking broadly across all cultures of the world, history shows that women who connect and network through communities and “tribes” significantly benefit from sharing with other like-minded and inter-connected women.
In fact, in a recent study on networking circles and leadership, researchers concluded that landing high-level leadership positions was directly correlated to being connected to other well-connected peers in one’s social networks.
More importantly, the researchers found that successful female leaders shared an additional characteristic: they all had an intimate tribe or tight-knit community of other like-minded, successful and/or well-connected women.
Ask any woman who is part of a formal, informal, in-person, or online community how it has influenced her life, and you will hear stories ranging from receiving much-needed emotional support to landing much-needed venture funding.
Sierra Busch found online communities — all of which are primarily executed through common platforms like Slack, Google Groups, and private Facebook groups — to be a significant help as she launched her immersive travel venture Creative Edge Travel. “Being part of women-driven communities allowed me to observe other entrepreneurs’ fears, worries, and triumphs, which helped me build the right mindset before I started my own business. It’s wild to think about, but online communities have been the primary source of my success thus far.”
The power of virtual tribes
In 2015, Gesche Haas sought to assemble a group of ambitious, interesting women to work around a table from time-to-time, discuss relevant business challenges and help support one another’s professional growth. What started as an intimate tribe that she personally needed for her own development, organically grew five years later into Dreamers and Doers, one of the most admired and sought-after communities for trailblazing women who actively engage in her private Facebook groups and virtual events.
Bilyana Freye, founder of the job-shadowing platform Hoppin, shared that through Dreamers and Doers, she felt embraced by a tribe of new friends and business collaborators overnight. “Aside from the invaluable close friendships, I’ve attended exclusive VC events, received invaluable press, and won many new brand ambassadors for Hoppin — all through this community.”
Melanie Curtis, professional skydiver, public speaker, author, and life coach, joined the Ellevate Network, a community of professional women committed to helping each other succeed, for its culture of inclusion, positivity, education, championing others, and building win-wins. Melanie added, “Simply knowing I have this massive freaking group of fierce like-spirited women in my corner has been huge for me.”
Heymama, another popular and quickly expanding community connecting entrepreneurial moms, grew out of the founders’ need for a space to share their worlds, discover new people and opportunities, and collaborate with like-minded “mamas.”
Kristiana Tarnuzzer, founder of The Cause Bar, joined Heymama in hopes of simply just meeting some other people that might be fun to see for a play date or cup of coffee every once in a while. Instead, she began building deeper relationships with women who encouraged her to transform her passion project into a business. “It’s been amazing to have found this tribe of working mothers. I feel like a part of a team again, myself again, and really am not sure I would be in this place if it weren’t for these communities.”
Belma McCaffrey started the Work Bigger Community to create a safe space for women to share struggles and wins around their work and life. She explained, “Community allows you to build connections with others who share your values. You don’t feel like you’re ‘networking.’ You feel like you’re building friendships and cheering each other on during challenging times.”
Then there’s the Female Founder Collective (FCC) which was created by Rebecca Minkoff to allow people to find and identify female-founded or majority female-run entities. Wendy Heilbut, both attorney for and member of FCC, added, “The real significance of the FFC is its ability to shift the flow of money. We all know about the gender pay gaps and the gender funding gaps. Rebecca founded the FFC because she knows women control a lot of the spending and that women want to support other women.”
My own community, The Upside, was born out of a need for a space where consultants and experts could connect with others at their level, build a quality referral network, gain a virtual board of advisors, collaborate on best practices and support the advancement of one another’s businesses.
Kadisha Phillips, Upside member and marketing strategist agreed and added, “The Upside is one of the best investments that I have made in myself and my consultancy. The Upside has opened up the door to several opportunities that have helped me acquire strong relationships with fellow consultants and elevated new business opportunities.”
Why every woman needs a tribe
Networking in the post-COVID era does not mean you have to go it alone. Now is the ideal time to reach out and find your virtual tribe!
Perhaps one of these communities may be the right fit for you; feel free to comment below to tell readers about your favorite communities and how they have positively influenced your life.
Curated, paid virtual communities:
The Upside — connections, advancement and leveling-up for consultants and experts
Dreamers and Doers — a network for trailblazing women
Heymama — network and events for entrepreneurial moms
Ellevate — network and events for professional women
Work Bigger — scaled coaching and finding work you love
Startup Fashion — tools and resources for emerging fashion designers
The Cru — curated accountability groups of high-achieving women
The Transitions Collective— a platform for women building businesses while raising families
Open, free virtual communities:
Ladies Get Paid — in-person events and Slack groups for career support
Freelancing Females — a huge community of freelancing women spanning all career levels
Female Founder Collective — network of women-owned businesses
Want to join a powerful virtual community? The Upside is here to support you!
Check out these Upside resources:
Join the conversation and get my weekly tips on Instagram.
Grab our guide Plant Seeds, Grow Clients for free here.
Join our tribe of experts and consultants with an Upside membership.
A version of this article originally appeared in Thrive Global for International Women’s Day.