“Be extra kind to yourself.” With Penny Bauder & Jen Ngozi

As an immigrant, I was taught to go to work, word hard, and keep my head down. I soon realized this upbringing was both a blessing and a curse to my career. Because of cultural differences, I didn’t grow up understanding the concept of networking and how critical it would be to my career. As […]

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As an immigrant, I was taught to go to work, word hard, and keep my head down. I soon realized this upbringing was both a blessing and a curse to my career. Because of cultural differences, I didn’t grow up understanding the concept of networking and how critical it would be to my career.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Ngozi.

Growing up in an immigrant family, Jen Ngozi was taught the importance of hard work at an early age. However, her experiences working for global firms proved that hard work alone was simply not enough for advancement. She observed the relationship between networking and leveling up but understood why many women skipped networking events. They were sometimes awkward, overwhelming and intimidating. Jen saw a need for a networking experience that was informal, inspired confidence and designed for the everyday woman.

In 2018, she launched NetWerk® a women’s networking and dance fitness movement designed to build community and confidence in everyday women. NetWerk® helps bring women one step closer to breaking the glass ceiling through the confidence and connections gained from networking and dancing. The movement started in her basement in Washington, DC and has expanded to offering events in several states across the US with an online Instructor Certification program. Today, Jen’s on a mission to disrupt the traditional networking experience while developing a community of fit, self-confident and connected women!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Icome from an immigrant family from Nigeria. As a child, I was taught the importance of hard work, education and giving back. From an early age, my parents instilled the hunger for excellence within me. When you come from a developing country, you never forget your roots. And that creates a lifelong burning desire to give back. And that’s exactly what planted the seed for NetWerk®.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Today women are killing it both professionally and personally! And it’s great. But despite our progress, studies show that we’re still not being represented in leadership roles across many industries.

NetWerk® was created to help bring women one step closer to breaking the glass ceiling through the confidence and connections gained from networking and dancing. Today we offer combined networking and dance fitness events across the US. Our goal is for the confidence women experience at our events to reflect in confidence in different areas of their lives. This means, women gaining more confidence to ask for promotions, start businesses, and say no to toxic relationships. We believe the world becomes more powerful when women are self-confident and connected to a supportive community.

As a lifelong dancer, I saw how much confidence dance gave me at a very young age. And I imagined how cool it would be if everyday non-dancer women could experience the same confidence boost. It would be a game changer.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

As an immigrant, I was taught to go to work, word hard, and keep my head down. I soon realized this upbringing was both a blessing and a curse to my career. Because of cultural differences, I didn’t grow up understanding the concept of networking and how critical it would be to my career.

It was having my hard work often overlooked and noticing an absence of women in leadership roles within the companies I worked for (especially women of color like myself), that made me realize something needed to change.

My quest to climb the corporate ladder led me to attend more networking events. And that’s where I discovered a problem. Quite frankly, they weren’t fun. Networking events were sometimes overly formal and intimidating even for an extrovert like myself. I saw a need for a networking experience that was playful, boosted confidence and designed for the everyday woman.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

The “Aha Moment” came after losing my sister Uchechi. Loss has a way of lighting a fire in you. Her death was an unfortunate reminder of why we shouldn’t put off pursuing our passions. And how important it is to chase our wildest dreams. My sister Uchechi once said “If your dreams don’t make people laugh, you’re not dreaming big enough.” She inspired me to just go for it!

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Honestly, I had no idea what it took to start an organization or even a movement. I built the plane as I was flying it! The hardest step was actually taking off or getting started. But once I started, I never looked back. I realized how much I didn’t know but I made it my job to fill in those gaps without letting my inexperience break my confidence. This was often easier said than done. Some practical steps I took included researching (it became my favorite hobby after dance), connecting with others in my industry, and kissing good bye the woman I was, to welcome the woman I aspired to become.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Since starting NetWerk®, one of the most interesting things has been witnessing how by simply going after my dreams, I’ve inspired those around me to do the same. As humans, we often don’t realize how powerful we are. And how we subconsciously influence those around us. Since our launch, I’ve had close friends start interior design, photography, and even dance businesses. Dreaming big is contagious! And I’d like to think I infected those around me with the desire to follow their dreams.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

When I was starting off, I was totally not honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I’m no graphic designer yet I made the silly decision to design our first few logos. They were all terrible. I changed them so often, I eventually lost track. Urgh! I finally gave up and hired someone. I learned that if I’m going to have the greatest impact on the world, I’m going to need help and a higher level of self-awareness.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I’m very fortunate to have both on my journey. Both cheerleaders and mentorship have been vital to our movement. Our NetWerk® community aka NetWerkHERs, were my cheerleaders from day one. Their support motivated me to keep going even when the road wasn’t always clear.

I’m currently mentored by a program called Score. As a first-generation immigrant, there were many gaps in my knowledge of business principles. My mentor Jim helped to fill in these gaps.

I couldn’t thank him and our NetWerkHERs enough.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of our NetWerkHERs disclosed that she was in an abusive relationship. It was the first time I’ve ever experienced something of this nature. But we quickly rallied behind her and sought out domestic violence resources in her area. With a combination of NetWerk’s support, the confidence dance offers, and domestic violence resources, I’m glad to say that she’s now in a much safer place. It’s times like these that truly brings us back to our mission of building community and confidence in women.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes, society could help our mission by first, being intentional about creating opportunities for advancement for women within organizations. This brings us one step closer to crushing the glass ceiling.

Next, stop bombarding women with unrealistic standards of beauty. Let us define our own! I believe this is responsible for the lack of confidence prevalent in women and girls today.

Lastly, I’m pro education and have both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. However, I believe our education system needs reform. Our mission and society would benefit greatly if important life skills including networking were taught in schools.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Think Bigger — When I started NetWerk®, my goals were too small. Had I achieved them, I’d have nothing more to strive for today.

Don’t fear mistakes — Overtime, I’ve learned that we never really make mistakes. We only get better aligned to our original purposeMistakes made my vision clearer. It’s important to embrace the entire process of building a social impact organization, including mistakes.

Be flexible — Although our mission has remained the same, our methods of how we operate have pivoted since our launch in 2018. I’ve learned it’s okay to take a different route to the same destination.

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses — I wasted so much precious time on tasks I wasn’t strong at. I learned the importance of teaming in the areas of my weaknesses.

Be extra kind to yourself — The road to building an organization is already tough. So there’s no room for any self-sabotaging behaviors like negative self-talk. You can’t inspire others without committing to doing so for yourself first.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I believe each of us has a unique assignment on this earth. Once we discover this assignment, life becomes more interesting and meaningful. My advice to anyone looking to make a positive impact is to just go for it! The world needs you, especially now.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah Winfrey hands down! I’m always impressed by those with the ability to create something from nothing, and to bounce back strong from setbacks. Oprah has done both and has always been one of my role models.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow our movement at www.netwerkmovement.com. We’re also on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok @netwerkmovement. And I can be reached personally on Instagram and Facebook @jenngozi. Thank you!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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