This article is part of a series of posts called “Ask EVE ” about concrete ways to support one another. This week, our co founder explores through her own experience, how we can be “sisters” to female founders.
By Sophie Le Ray, Co-founder EVE List
I have been an entrepreneur pretty much all my career and co founded my first venture with an all male team. Networking amongst female business leaders was random and not easily accessible back then.
Since I was in the business of connecting senior people, I witnessed first hand how seldom were the opportunities for women to raise their public profile and grow their professional network in traditional conferences or networking club environments.
We launched WIL Forum in Dubai in 2009 to fill that gap: a “gentlewoman’s club” for senior female leaders and entrepreneurs to grow powerful business networks, increase their public visibility, support and inspire each other.
In the past 25 years, the landscape has changed drastically and we have seen the rise of a fundamental pillar to reaching gender equity: women supporting women through business networks.
Research about access to leadership positions shows that despite having similar qualifications to men including education and work experience, women need to have an inner circle of close female contacts to achieve the executive positions with the highest levels of authority and pay.
“Women who were in the top quartile of centrality and had a female-dominated inner circle of 1-3 women landed leadership positions that were 2.5 times higher in authority and pay than those of their female peers lacking this combination.”Brian Uzzi, Harvard Business review
The author suggests that women’s success also depended on a certain kind of inner circle, one in which the women were closely connected to each other but had minimal contacts in common, one that was as wide as possible, with little overlap, and much randomness to open up opportunities for new connections.
“There is power in relationships that extends beyond a generic introduction. When you create connections based on shared interests and goals, you’ll be more successful at your job, because people want to work with people they know and like”Shelley Zalis, Founder of The Female Quotient
It is fundamental to create organised networks for professional women to access a wide support system, but also to advocate for policy making and transformational change across industries. Business women networks are formidable agents of change, impacting both individuals and organisations.
My generation grew up with the imagery of the Iron lady who got to the top of the corporate ladder and once there, removed the ladder so no one ever has a chance to take her so hard earned position.
Although we can all remember encountering such a stereotype, my personal experience with women in senior leadership has been quite the opposite.
Most successful women I have met in my career were quick to share their network, time and practical support.
They understood a fundamental principle of growth.
Those with a worldview constructed around the belief that there are plenty of opportunities, engage with others as partners, not competitors and share easily contacts, resources and encouragement.
Their network grows larger (and stronger) often beyond the boundaries of their industry. As a result, they extend their reach and benefit from the ripple effect of having a strong, broad group of supporters.
Those whose worldviews are based on the belief that opportunities are scarce (i.e The proverbial Dragon Lady), live in fear of being replaced, outshined, irrelevant. They network in a very transactional manner, choosing “strategically” in their industry, and according to their direct benefit.
Although they might see some success initially, lack of long term relationships narrows opportunities for growth.
Obviously, these behaviours are present in both genders. However since we have seen earlier that women benefit in greater proportions of a wide network and considering the reality of gender inequality in leadership positions, we have an incentive to be more intentional and long term oriented in the way we support one another.
To paraphrase my friend Rana Nawas in her awesome business podcast, “when one woman wins, all women win”.
Being an entrepreneur for over 20 years, I love it when I hear “I want to support you’. I encourage (myself) and the readers to ALWAYS follow through with actions.
We all can make a difference in another woman’s career, regardless of how much influence and connections we possess.
With EVE List for example, we very much need support.
We are not going to close the gender gap on our own. To reach our objective, we seek support from people who are doing what they say, and even if it is a small thing, it is great. It brings us one more closer.
At EVE List, we look at being pragmatic with every new feature we start. We are a small team with a big mission. So focus is key.
Our main goal is to measure the state of gender equity in the workplace though the EVE Score, and this will keep us busy for a while.
In the meantime, we are set on growing a community of “stars” who share the same desires and values and are willing to grow one another with their insights, experience and resources.
Join us in closing the gender divide.