Thanks to smart networking, Jacqueline Zimmerman’s company, JetsetPrivate Air, experienced a 220% … [+]
A passion for travel and adventure — and a shared alma mater, Barnard College — was the link for entrepreneurs Margot Kong and Jacqueline Zimmerman. After meeting at a virtual alumnae networking event during 2020’s pandemic lockdown, the two struck up a “Thelma and Louise”–flavored connection that would bear fruit for each other’s businesses right away.
“Not only did we have the college connection, but we both previously worked on Wall Street and left the world of finance to pursue the one of travel and adventure,” says Kong, founder of the luxury travel consultancy Journeys Unparalleled. “Because of these shared connections and experiences, [Zimmerman, CEO and founder of JetsetPrivate Air] took my call after the event — and a few conversations and emails later, we were booking private jet travel for our now-mutual clients.”
Margot Kong, founder of Journeys Unparalleled
A referral from Kong’s office ended up becoming one of Zimmerman’s key clients, propelling her company to a 220% increase in revenues during the pandemic. “Later, I had clients looking to create a one-of-kind destination wedding, and I sent them to Journeys Unparalleled,” adds Zimmerman. “So far it has been an amazing journey that would have not happened where it not for [Kong], a Barnard connection, and her first-class team.”
We all know that social networks are critical when it comes to advancing in our careers, whether we’re seeking our first job, rising the corporate ladder or growing a new business. But what networking style is the most effective for women today? Is it the quantity of our connections, or their quality? Should we paper the world with our business cards, or focus instead on a few well-considered emails or calls?
But first: Has the Covid-19 pandemic killed our networking opportunities anyway—and if so, why bother? Turns out there are plenty of reasons to bother. Networking has pivoted into the virtual realm, making it totally safe and more convenient than ever to pop into an event.
The Barnard Entrepreneurs Network (BEnet), for one, is seeing powerful benefits after shifting to at-home offerings over the past year. Founded in 2013 by alumna Christina Lewicky, BEnet’s offerings initially featured Barnard graduates discussing their entrepreneurial journeys and sharing subject area expertise in interviews, on panels and at dinner tables — yet pivoted online during the pandemic.
BEnet founder and Barnard alum Christina Lewicky
“We’ve reached a broader, geographically diverse audience with our events and have had speakers join us from around the world, have greatly utilized our social media outlets to disseminate information, and have gotten creative with featuring our prized alumnae entrepreneurs and their companies online,” says Jennifer Perusini, chair of BEnet. “Even after we return to in-person events, we hope to continue incorporating some of these virtual elements to grow and broaden our engagement.”
Think Quality Over Quantity
It turns out that for women in particular, networking effectively is about substance (not fluff) and the quality of our connections. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study of MBA graduates found that, while both women and men benefited from being central within student networking groups, women who were successful at rising to the top rungs of the corporate ladder also tended to have an inner circle of close female contacts.
The study’s authors suggested that having such an inner circle can be key to overcoming the cultural and political hurdles that many women face in seeking positions of executive leadership. That’s because the women in your circle can share private information about everything from an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, to interviewing tips, negotiation strategies and the like.
“I lean heavily upon my inner circles of connections, many of whom I met while in school, and others many years later,” says Kong, noting that these women have become her clients, mentors, sounding boards and collaborators. Yet while she already has a core group, she’s open to growing it. “I ardently believe that having a solid network is crucial for an entrepreneur. This means both maintaining a strong inner circle of friends and professional contacts as well as growing existing networks and developing new ones.”
Growing your circle through networking groups and events with like-minded women can spark serendipity, explains BEnet founder Lewicky. “One advantage of purposefully developing a broad network, that includes connections for others, is that it can create far-reaching paths to wonderful and unexpected places,” she says. Through BEnet, Lewicky reached out to a Barnard alum to help a childhood friend with a career change — which led to that alum gaining headway in an unrelated arena and then helping a second alum in yet another unrelated industry. “Through just one connection leveraged, three women advanced across three industries.”
Jettison The Notion That Networking Is ‘Shallow’
After “quality over quantity,” the second golden rule of brilliant networking is to toss out the idea that networking is what calculating, cold and transactional people do. Done right, networking can actually be the opposite — it can feed the craving that we all have for warm and authentic human connection. Who doesn’t want to be seen, heard and valued?
“I have a close circle of professional contacts, mainly other founders and CEOs, that have been invaluable to me in growing my career,” says BEnet member Lauren Salz, cofounder and CEO of Sealed, a start-up that helps homeowners afford energy-saving upgrades. “This is something that I’ve had to be very intentional about cultivating. Being a CEO can be a lonely job. One of my biggest learnings over the last couple of years is that most problems companies face are not unique to them, and having a close group of people who have had similar journeys to turn to is enormously helpful.”
There’s nothing shallow about having camaraderie and a tribe that you can count on, and that can evolve in a way that feels natural to you. So, especially during Women’s History Month, in the spirit of women helping women — go ahead and make the most of your circle of close female contacts.
But don’t think of that circle as something closed and inflexible. Whether it means getting active in an alumnae organization or joining a group of local businesswomen, find opportunities to nurture and expand your network of substantive connections in a thoughtful way.
It’s not about flinging business cards to everyone in striking distance — but taking a considerate approach to building quality relationships with the people you connect with naturally.
In other words, keep it real — and be open to growing your circle.
I am an entrepreneur, a mother, and an agent of change. As the founder and CEO of Inkwell—a startup that places accomplished professionals in flexible high-level