Dear LiL: I often find it more difficult to build mutually beneficial business relationships with women than with men. Any tips for establishing a successful network of women? Signed ~ Seeking Sisterhood
Dear Seeking Sisterhood:
You are not alone in finding it difficult to build mutually beneficial business relationships with women and establishing a strong and successful female network. The reality is that we all have incredible time pressures on us with work, family, friends and often caregiving responsibilities of either aging parents or our own children. We also all develop friendships and relationships outside of our work life and those relationships take care and feeding. Our example of networking business relationships is often what we have seen our male colleagues do and much of that may just not fit within your interests or within the time that you have available for networking. The end result is that women can feel that it is difficult or impossible to build a strong network of business connections.
In reality; however, women have a myriad of opportunities to develop strong business relationships and can do so at the same time as giving back to their community and their profession. Networking doesn’t have to be limited to going to hockey games and golfing (see a previous blog post from Una speaking to just that here). The best form of networking that I have discovered is getting involved in my professional and broader community through involvement in organizations and serving on boards and committees.
At a community level it is important to understand the value that lawyers bring to organizations. Lawyers have been trained to analyze matters and communicate in a way that non lawyers don’t, and that analytic and communication skill can be invaluable to community organizations. Lawyers are natural leaders and are generally more comfortable taking on leadership roles in organizations than our non lawyer sisters. I have been involved with a number of community organizations over the years, with my involvement being driven by either interest, personal experience or situational. Lawyers are an asset to community boards and I am confident that if you put up your hand to volunteer for any community organization that interests you, you will be heartily welcomed.
My community involvement began over 25 years ago when I became a member of the board of Lupus Canada, an organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of patients with lupus. That involvement was driven by a personal connection with lupus and that initial community involvement opened my eyes to just how much I, as a lawyer, have to contribute to community boards. Since that first involvement I have joined a variety of boards, often leading to leadership roles within those boards. I have been responsible for chairing the board for my children’s swim team, Cycling BC (which arose because of my love of cycling), the Ovarian Cancer Gala and currently to serving on the board of another club that I belong to. The benefits I gain from this community involvement far outweigh the time requirement. Not only have I greatly expanded my network, and notably many of the people that I have met through my involvement have become clients or referral sources of clients, but I have also developed and improved many skills that are beneficial for me in my professional life. My community board involvement has helped me improve my communication skills, has helped develop my analytical abilities and exposed me to the inner workings of a broad range of organizations. The key; however, is to become involved because you are interested and want to give back to your community, not because of what you will gain from your involvement.
I have also been very involved in a number of professional organizations throughout my legal career. That involvement has led to the mutually beneficial business relationships with women that you are seeking and has for me created a very successful network of women. There are a myriad of legal organizations that you can get involved with, ranging from local bar associations to national associations such as the American Association for Justice or the Canadian Bar Association. Being involved in national organizations will help you to gain connections with colleagues throughout the country. Being involved in local organizations will help you feel more connected to your profession and can form the base of a strong network of business relationships. My involvement in professional organizations, probably even more so than in community organizations, has led to business opportunities, relationships and an understanding and knowledge of the legal profession that I otherwise never would have. Our profession, like so many others, is reliant on people like you putting up your hand to help out and to help guide the direction that our profession takes.
I start each year with an analysis of where I will be spending my volunteer time. I choose where I spend my time based on my interest and where I feel that I can contribute the most. I aim every year to have both community and professional involvement. I change it up from year to year and although I don’t have a set number of years that I will give to any particular organization, I am always critically analyzing whether the organizations that I am involved with remain a fit for me and whether I am continuing to contribute in the way that I want. When I get involved with an organization, I make a goal as to what change or value add I want to leave that organization with and when I have accomplished that I move on. The beauty of it though is that when you move on, you do not move on from the relationships and business connections that you have made, or the knowledge that you have gained from your involvement. Those are yours to keep. The secret to building business relationships and to creating a successful network is getting involved in your community and your profession with a focus on giving and helping.