“Network like a woman” is new terminology to me, but I’ve been watching men network like men for years.
During my training as a facial plastic surgeon, I was often one of the only women in the room. I noticed that the male surgeons who were hanging out on weekends, playing golf or having dinner together often discussed their practices, referred patients to each other and, in general, were friends as part of their business relationships. There is a reason it is referred to as a “good ol’ BOYS’ club.” I often felt like I was intruding just by sitting around the doctor’s lounge listening to the conversations, many of which were not intended for female ears. Men who have similar interests and experiences are drawn to each other, and it makes sense that men bond with other men. These relationships help men make connections, gain access to opportunities, and overcome roadblocks that are encountered. Women have come a long way in the workforce, but networking can still be a considerable hurdle. Unlike men, women are better served to seek out deliberate networking opportunities. It just doesn’t happen naturally in the lounge or on the golf course for us.
So I started as a nervous bystander at the local BossBabes group started by Lauren Ross and Jessica Wimberly, but now it can only be described as a mission. One of the many things I love about the Shreveport area is all of the fantastic woman-focused networking opportunities. You can attend the Ladies in Leadership luncheons put on by the Petroleum Club of Shreveport organized by Rachel Lopez. There are opportunities to volunteer with groups that give back to the community full of hard-working smart women, like the Junior League of Shreveport Bossier. The Athena mentorship program that focuses on women in business and community is amazing, and from the comfort of your own phone there are the informal Facebook groups that encourage women to support each other and share their business no matter how big or small, such as “Who Run the World, Girls,” “Girl Talk with Talk with Amy Ly & Friends,” “All Things Girly” or parenting-focused groups such as ”Shreveport-Bossier Moms in the Know,” all started by local women.
That is not to say that women do not need to also network with groups that are predominantly men. No matter the makeup of the group, it’s important to “sit at the table.” This is an area that I will likely always struggle. Whenever I attend national conferences, I’m one of a handful of women in the room during surgical presentations. I was asked to speak at one recently and felt overwhelmed with a lack of confidence that I belonged there. This time, it was my staff that supported and pushed me. I put myself out there and realized during the process that I was just as experienced and educated on the topics as any of the men in the room. I realized how silly it was that I had let myself feel inferior. I discussed difficult cases and learning opportunities with the men there and learned a lot. I then reached out to the few other women at the conference and really enjoyed the experience. Additionally, I gained a referral connection to a doctor in a nearby town. I could give similar examples from meeting with potential investors for our upcoming Every Man a King Distilling company or a number of other times. With each step out of my comfort zone, past the fear phase, I learn and grow and realize a greater potential for myself and family.
So, reach out to the other women in your area whether you’re selling skin care from home or running a large company. Women who are in the position that you seek can be immensely helpful. Every single one of those women that I’ve approached has been more than willing to help and provide advice and counsel. They have been where you are. They know the struggles and you will find no better support. When I first took on the daunting task of starting my own medical practice from the ground up, I called a doctor with a practice in New Orleans I had never met before, but heard speak once. She gave me tons of advice; I even drove down to New Orleans where she showed me around her practice, educated me on staff training and patient flow. I remain in touch with her to this day, and she continues to give advice about how to balance work and life as mother, which is something we’re both still working on. If any of you have the answer, please let us know. By taking a chance and reaching out, I’ve gained invaluable knowledge from a colleague that became a friend.
Diversify your inner circle. Include men and women from different backgrounds and race. Don’t rely solely on your immediate networks like your fellow school moms or high school friends. Put yourself out there. Meet women from other backgrounds who will help educate you and provide access to new networks you otherwise wouldn’t meet. I have been blessed to meet so many amazing women doing things for themselves, their families and their communities. I am embarrassed that I once complained about how hard it is to make female friends in Shreveport. If you can relate, then it may take more effort and more thought than the standard male networking.
Even though my husband has not had to dedicate the time or apply any of these strategies, he seems to be doing just fine professionally. That’s not a surprise, because women have historically had to work harder to get to the top of the workplace. Let’s change that through thoughtful and deliberate networking and support of other women. Offer mentorship when you can and take it when you need it. Look into local activities you can participate in, push yourself outside your comfort zone, and have fun doing it.
Lean in: Women, Work, and the will to lead. B Sheryl Sandberg & Nell Scovell
Some assembly required: A Networking Guide for Women By Thom Singer
Dr. Lindsey Pennington is a Cosmetic Facial Plastic Surgeon in Shreveport-Bossier, she runs her own private practice medical office. In addition, she is a co-founder and proprietor of Every Man A King Distillery and CEO of The Revenir Restaurant. She is the mother of a 15-month-old girl, who is her pride and joy. She works daily to balance work and mothering, “not always gracefully” and finds her best support both professionally and at home in local women who love building up other women.