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Nancy and I bonded in the late ’90′s workaholic days of an internet startup when our kids were little. More than a decade has passed and she’s VP of a growing company and I’m consulting and coaching, both of us busy as can be. We don’t see each other enough now, and the reason I know that is that at the end of every lunch that survives our schedules, we hug and say things like, “which college did Jeff decide to go to? Is Alex already graduated? Really!?” We’ve been so busy talking business, leadership challenges and career strategy that we don’t manage to squeeze the kids in until the end.
And this is so refreshing to me, and Nancy too. How many women’s networking lunches do we go to where everyone is so busy catching up on the personal stuff that we don’t get around to business? Another friend of mine recently complained about her women’s professional group, because the business issues she cares most about haven’t gotten a chance to surface due to others chatting up their family dramas.
I think women are – as a rule – really getting skilled at work-life balance. We, more than the men I know, manage to integrate ourselves into our lives very holistically. Maybe it’s because we’re good at multitasking, maybe it’s because we still carry the larger burden when it comes to kid care, or maybe – most likely – we’re just that good:)
I have heard some women say they value women’s networking groups precisely because they can focus on non-work issues. These women don’t feel like they can “let their hair down” with their staffs and colleagues because they’re afraid of being perceived as not focused on the business, so they rely on their professional gatherings to get that itch for personal sharing with others who understand the stresses of their work-life challenges.
But I’m beginning to wonder if this could be a problem for some women in terms of tapping into the Old Girls Network we talk about needing to create to help each other out. Are we getting good at networking but not using it to build our business and mentoring skills? Are we using our woman-to-woman networking to vent our personal stuff and complain about the system to the point that we don’t coach each other in working the system, using it and dominating it so we can change the rules more directly?
Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that women put their personal challenges aside completely to be “more like the guys” who focus on the business to the exclusion of personal issues so often. I don’t think that we’re “not ambitious enough” or uninterested in success. I’m also not worried about what “others” think of our proclivity for mixing personal and business issues in our dialog. Overall, I think our ability to integrate our personal and professional selves is a good thing – for our businesses, our families and ourselves. And there is some special bonding that can happen over pictures of the kids.
What I’m wondering is whether many women are missing an opportunity to really mentor each other on the business of business. Are we giving each other a leg up or are we just empathizing and listening sympathetically?
I know some women have particularly negative experiences with other women leaders who actively compete with them and refuse to help them. I think this is a different phenomenon and will cover this research on the Queen Bee/Adult Mean Girl bosses in a separate blog.
I have no idea what the statistical average of women’s group’s practices are so I’m not trying to come to any grand sweeping conclusions here. But I am curious about your experience. Have you noticed women optimizing the personal bonding to the detriment of the business mentoring and support? Do you know programs that are good at managing this balance? Am I making a mountain out of mole hill or tapping into a deeper theme we’d be advised to examine in more depth. Please share your thoughts.
Edit: Forgot to add this link to the InPower Women LinkedIn Group I created to facilitate women’s business networking across boundaries like corporate and entrepreneurial and nonprofit worlds. The discussions have been very business focused. Please join and invite others.