Networking, collaboration and mentorship are concepts which have been trending in various industries over the past few years. However, major gaps exist in terms of these professional development opportunities for those who identify as a part of a marginalized community—and for females, trans or nonbinary individuals now working in sectors which have typically been male-dominated, such as sales and tech.
Three Wisconsin entrepreneurs offer a savvy perspective on strategically building an inclusive network that will provide the support you need at each stage of your career.
Approach Collaboration as a Safe Space
“As BIPOC, we do not receive critical and timely information nor guidance relevant to our experiences, circumstances and goals in the way that others do. Addressing these gaps in access and opportunities was one of the aims behind Synergy. We aim to continue to break down these barriers and cultivate diverse networks—intentionally relationships to help others,” says Vital Voices senior director of Economic Empowerment & Entrepreneurship and Synergy Coworking co-founder Eugenia Podestá.
Podestá explains that mentorship and networking can help us to learn, grow and achieve our goals. “Our relationships can be powerful tools to better understand strengths, unique talents and tap into opportunities. It is not just about the size of one’s network. It also includes showing appreciation for what is shared with us, checking in and giving back in a reciprocal way.“
Foster Authentic Connections
Call it having a coach, a mentor or a great network. No matter how you view the human in your corner, they usually lead to more impactful and equitable outputs if a commitment to honest, transparent communication is present in each interaction. “Which is why I make my connections a big priority–because of the genuine support we provide each other,” says writer and Project Kinect CEO Gregg Potter.
Potter notes that when at a standstill, he can turn to his network to brainstorm next steps, implement realistic solutions or even approach their extended networks for additional ideas. “I owe a lot to my mentors and coaches for drilling this value into me. It has so much to do with my success,” Potter says.
Own Your Skill Set
“I am not great at everything. In fact, my specialty is pretty narrow. I’m amazing at sales and coaching other people to be great at sales. But I also work with coaches whenever I need to call on expertise I don’t have,” says The Dames Madison president and revenue consultant Ashley Quinto Powell. Whether it be motivation and career direction or health and wellness, Quinto Powell points out there is a great deal learned by focusing on improvement.
It is also important not to write off networking as “fluff” or avoid it just because it is hard to walk into a room where you don’t know anyone. “Let’s face it: Networking is easy to neglect. Go in trusting your aspirations will be well-served by being fully present. No matter the need—product vendors, job search leads, insider industry tips, an empathetic group of friends—a strong network really can help you land in the right profession or a build a better business.”