By Naomi Pyburn for Ogunte
Building social capital, showing your face, talking to the ‘right’ people, making yourself known, moving in high circles.
Looking back, so many of the Impact Women we amplify and the ones we support, say they wish they had been better networkers. They often say they didn’t realise at first how important it is to put yourself and your idea out there, and to build up a strong, supportive professional network from the beginning. Many said they wished they could have been more assertive and asked for the help they needed.
There is no shortage of literature to suggest that some women assume networking is “more difficult for women than men”. Women have long been excluded from the informal gatherings, dinners and golf trips or pub crawls where men forge those all-important professional relationships. The established social science principle of ‘likes attract’ says that we are more likely to bond with people like us, and the male-dominated upper ranks make this a struggle for women. We know that we need to be active in engaging and expanding our networks. For the thousandth time, we are told to lean in.
But our interviews with women in social enterprises flagged up some more personal obstacles to rocking up to that professional event with show-stopping confidence. Looking a little closer to home, let’s dive into why we might be tempted to pass on an opportunity:
It’s easy to be dazzled by what everyone else is doing, and the impact they are having. When approaching someone with a few decades’ more experience than us, we can hesitate to ask a favour because we don’t know what to offer in return. But, bear in mind that they had help too, from older mentors and advisors, and the way to repay them is to become a mentor yourself in the future and continue the cycle of paying it forward.
Essma Ben Hamida, founder of enda inter-arabe – the first micro-finance institution in Tunisia: “Few people achieve their full potential on their own – I definitely had people who helped me to where I am today. So I see it as only fair that we should give back.”
Pride and emotional investment can get in the way of us asking for help when we need it. We get immersed in an idea and forget to look outwards at how others can offer advice, support, or resources.
One of the great things about social business is that we are all working towards the common goal of building a better world – the incentive to help each other out is already there. Look up.
Get more help!
Ruth Anslow, founder of hiSbe - a supermarket in Brighton that believes in prioritising fair pay and happiness for all over short-term profit: “Get more help! Amy and I are both highly independent, stubborn, and resourceful, and we just tried to do everything ourselves. It’s different now, but in the beginning we didn’t know how to ask for help.“
We might get to a place where we are satisfied with the number and quality of our friends and acquaintances. While this position sounds enviable, it could be a bad idea to stop reaching outwards.
Studies have shown that innovative ideas and breakthroughs are often triggered by an interaction with someone in your outer circle. This makes sense, as new acquaintances can offer unfamiliar perspectives and spark connections in your mind that you’d never considered before. In this way, networking can be seen as an opportunity to hear fresh input and be challenged by people outside of your go-to advisors.
As with all social interactions, there is an element of risk involved in networking. Yes, you might put your foot in it, or say something you wish you hadn’t. But the benefits far exceed the momentary discomfort of walking into a roomful of people you don’t know. You encounter new people with new ideas and perspectives that might well be crucial to helping you take the next step for your venture. You can form lasting relationships, and maybe even meet your next business partner. Crucially, all these good things will stay unknown until you face your fear and take a leap.
carry bad associations. Ever been in a room where everyone is trying to cosy up
to the few in senior positions, and there is an air of desperation as they
compete to leave a good impression? It’s not a pleasant environment.
It’s uncomfortable to think of using social interactions for one’s own benefit, to get ahead, which could be why many of us cringe at the prospect of an evening of networking.
We need to adjust
our language to positively engage with the importance of being connected. And I
mean truly connected and supported, not just being able to name-drop
acquaintances in high places.
Megan Miller, founder of Bitty Foods – which produce high protein cricket flour, says: “Networking is such a corporate and lame-sounding term, but really it’s just making human connections, making friends, and finding people who have done what you’re doing, or something close to it, who can share information. Super valuable. “
Networking is about seeking out professionals with values and vision that align with yours. It is about meaningfully connecting with others on a similar path to you, and sharing resources to progress towards a common goal. It is a brave choice to break out of isolation that can be crippling to a new venture.
Take a note from experienced entrepreneurs who wish they could have been more assertive when opportunities to make valuable relationships arose. When it comes to putting your ideas out there, don’t let anything stop you from being heard.
Poonam Bir Kasturi, founder of Daily Dump - designing and building products and services for decentralized waste management in homes, communities, offices and public spaces: “Get better at networking - you have no idea how important that is in this world if you want to scale.”
“Make your business futureproof – build a strong network now that you can call on in the future. This way, you can prepare against hitting roadblocks in times of growth. “
Chinwe Ohajuruka, founder of Comprehensive Design Services – focusing on affordable green housing in emerging markets, says: “If I could travel back in time, I would tell myself to get out there and network more. Engage many more people with my vision and do not be too hesitant, proud or shy to ask for help when I need it. I would also encourage myself not to be too modest, and to toot my horn every step of the way to garner more interest in and appreciation of what it is I am trying to do!”
Put yourself out
there. If you don’t believe in and shout about
your idea, no one else will.
Megan Miller, Bitty Foods: “Find people who’ve walked ahead of you, who have contacts and smart advice. You would just be reinventing the wheel if you didn’t reach out and find smart people who have experience to mentor you.”
Be resourceful. It is not valuable to DIY for the sake of it. Work smart and don’t waste your time wrestling with a problem for which someone else has already found a great solution.
Urvashi Sahni, founder of SHEF – providing quality education to underprivileged girls in India: “I think about networks as clusters of people with a shared interest or goal. This is how movements work, as you gather together more and more drivers of change. “
So, go forth and multiply your networks!
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