After an entire month of introducing smart, powerful, inspiring women, here’s what I learned…
Studies have shown that females need two networks — one a diverse network of both men and women, and another separate female network. I’m a firm believer in building, growing and fostering a female network. It’s crucial to women’s success, because we’re stronger when we lift each other up together.
Since March was Women’s History Month, I started thinking about how I could not only continue to build my own network of women across different industries, but also how I could help other women grow theirs. So, I started the initiative Connect4Women, with the goal of connecting four women every weekday throughout the month.
For a while, I was setting aside one night a week after my kids went to bed that was designated to making connections. I became so passionate about it, I even started an event series to open dialogues and foster vulnerable connections with one another. So Connect4Women seemed like a natural extension.
But connecting didn’t always come easy — I grew up an only child with an amazing mother who made doing it all look effortless: She was always perfectly put together, got up at the time of an airline jumbo jet every single morning (7:37 or 7:47), and ate Taco Bell every day without gaining a pound — all while running a successful accounting practice, serving on the PTA, making homemade Halloween costumes and making sure every meal was put down hot on the table. Oh, and she never complained once, about any of it. I saw this and wanted to emulate her and make her proud.
I thought that the way to do that was to be perfect, so I started to put up barriers. In college, I wore a different colored ribbed Gap turtleneck every day, and I would shape my bob into place every morning so it hit the top of the turtleneck exactly. (Yes, I got teased for this.) I didn’t see it at the time, but this uniform became my armor. I came off as cold and unrelatable to other people, and had no idea why. It wasn’t until I was able to loosen up, to allow myself to be vulnerable and to shed the shield of perfection that I really began to connect with others.
Now that I’m more comfortable in my own skin, knowing how hard connecting was for me at times makes me want to do it even more for others. And this month has been more than rewarding, with new conversations sparked, meetings booked and meaningful connections forged. I took away so much from it. After an entire month of introducing smart, powerful, inspiring women, here’s what I learned:
Connecting four people means literally sending two emails a day. Think about how many emails you hit “send” on during an average workday. Adding two more really isn’t that big a deal, is it?
I always think it’s a good idea to build contacts in industries outside our own, because mentorship and inspiration can take all sorts of forms. That said, introductions shouldn’t feel completely random. You need to establish some background and reason to connect to give two people a jumping-off point and a reason to follow up with each other.
Drafting off my experience as an advertising executive, I always try to be creative with my connections as they may not be the obvious choice. For instance, if the purpose of the two people or companies are aligned, the connection might work even if one person is at a much larger company than the other.
There are some people that need to be asked in order for you to connect them. You need to use your judgement on those specific cases. This is especially important in job searches. Unsolicited connections can feel intrusive, so if I see a job that might be a good fit for someone, I always ask first if that person is looking for the role. Vice versa, if I know the person who’s hiring for a position, I ask if I can put a good candidate in touch before I inundate them with intros.
As soon as I started Connect4Women, people started requesting meetings or connections. I met over 120 new women in the month of March alone. It was an incredible result, but it also made me realize I could have set up a more rigorous process for incoming connections. Keeping track of my contacts and their strengths could have helped me better pinpoint how to help people when they approached me directly. It’s a goal for next year!
The connections that have been the most fruitful for me are the ones that I’ve revealed my true self even if it’s not pretty. Sometimes I still struggle with doing this in the first conversation, but If I get to the next one I always find that being open and my authentic self leads to a connection that lasts.
Luckily this hasn’t been a huge issue, but there have been a couple of instances where people have overstepped their boundaries (about job listings, etc.). Being clear in your communication and why you’re connecting two people might help keep things above board.
I’m never expecting anything from the connections that I make, but next year I’m going to make it a point to ask in the initial intro for all the contacts to keep me posted on what happens with them. It fuels me even more when I know that things do work out. And even if it doesn’t, I want the feedback to know how I can better and more effectively connect.
Even though Women’s History Month has ended, the fact that I connected more than 80 women in March has inspired me to keep my intros going. I’m hoping that next year I can get even more people, especially in the advertising world as sometimes we can get a bit too competitive and insular, to do it with me, so that our networks get stronger and stronger.
About the author:
Jennifer DaSilva is a seasoned integrated marketer with 20 years of experience working on Fortune 500 brands. As president of WPP creative agency Berlin Cameron, Jennifer has spent the last 15 years managing key accounts like Coca-Cola, Heineken, Lexus and Capital One.
Jen is a champion of entrepreneurship, having launched Girl Brands Do It Better, a Berlin Cameron division that empowers female entrepreneurs through connections and creativity. In 2018, she was named a Direct Marketing News Woman to Watch and one of the Financial Times HERoes as someone who has made an impact supporting women. Her mission is to foster meaningful connections through authentic and vulnerable communication.
She graduated with honors from Boston College and lives in New York with her husband and 2 active sons.