Hi! I’m Stephanie Breedlove, Co-Founder of Care.com HomePay, Author and Angel Investor.
I absolutely adore taking an idea and giving it life in the form a business, then leading it to its full potential. Nothing is more fun. (Seriously!) I’d love for every woman who wants to start her own business to say the same thing, so here I am, mentoring millennial entrepreneurs. When I’m not working, I like to recharge and head outdoors to hike, bike, or stand up paddle board!
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Why it’s important:
A study showcased in Harvard Business Review makes a valid argument that networking-your-way-to-the-top is overblown. It’s more about tangible help from your contacts to grow your career, and men seem to be more successful than women in garnering real help. Why? And what do we need to change, ladies?
Much of the advice to both women and men in the workforce is simple: network, build relationships, find a mentor, and participate in your employee resource group (ERG). However, women are often told to seek out other women and foster friendships in order to seek advice. This has manifested into asking to grab coffee or asking for a few minutes of time “to pick your brain.” There seems to be a consistently missing element in these asks: Mutual benefit.
I engage in mentoring when there is a potential win in it for me. Applying this standard has created tremendously valuable and meaningful relationships, and it ensures productive use of time for both parties. Reciprocity is vital to the relationship if it is going to have sustained value.
Reciprocity must be present for success, and unfortunately it is easier said than done for many women. Asking for something and receiving, and later giving something in return is not a foreign notion to men in the workplace. Pivot your ask away from being just the informal coffee discussion and general advice, but instead leverage these connection points to make a formal ask or to explain a need.
It’s important to know your ask and to define it – so it’s clear how others can help you. Ask for introductions to senior leaders and prospective clients. Seek support from a mentor when you are seeking a promotion. Take the same approach with clients. When you reach out for a meeting or a catch up, be prepared, clear in your ask and desired outcome. The people you want to connect with are busy, so make the time spent worthwhile and efficient.
I have recently implemented a protocol when asked to grab a coffee: Even with close relationships, I don’t accept an invitation to grab coffee unless the purpose and topics of conversation are communicated with the invitation. My desire to be productive and efficient doesn’t offend, it is actually appreciated.
Most importantly, take all of these actions with the expectation that one day these favors might need to be returned. If you’re not in a position to have a two-way conversation, then don’t ask to just “pick their brain.” We are often so excited to receive support that we forget to offer our assistance. Genuinely listen and fully understand the relationship opportunity. This is the ticket to a win-win.
Top Take-Away: If you’re looking for an ask, you should be looking to give too. It’s a proven path to success. The wins won’t end with a single ‘transaction’ of give and take. It will organically keep giving, and that’s a true win.