Women in Business

House music filled a prestigious auditorium in Cape Town, as I appeared simultaneously on three enormous video screens, wearing a blue suit and getting more than six hundred women to dance to the music. “Small talk is the appetizer for any relationship,” I said, and people like to do business with those with whom they’ve established common ground. “A good networker is looking to foster relationships! They transition a person from stranger to powerful business connection” I enthusiastically told the audience on Women’s Day a few years ago. “I am Oliver. How are you doing?”

“Great,” the audience thundered in unison. I then gave them a simple five-part exercise to help them talk about what they do in a way that showed their character and competence. Moreover, I gave them a shock and awe experience in helping them to advance their relationships through 6 stages of trust building. Let me take this opportunity to challenge you to take your networking relationships beyond small talk and to wish you a Happy Women’s Day!

In this article, I will encourage you to build the network you need to take you from being a respected professional to recognized expert to a formal director of a company on a corporate board. Enjoy …

The role of women on boards continues to evolve, as have all other leadership roles for women in business. We know that boards have not been historically women-friendly and the number of women on corporate boards are still incredibility low despite the strong correlation between diversity of thought and company performance. Fewer than 10% of the world’s top 300 companies’ board members and directors are women, according to a recent study conducted by Ricol Lasteyrie and Associates.

In today’s corporate climate of increased scrutiny of board governance, boards of directors are being held more accountable than ever. Composition is being closely watched and CEOs and directors are frequently broadening their search for new board members to include women and minorities. Companies that fish in only half of the talent pool will lose out to those that cast their net more widely. There is also evidence that mixed boards make better decisions than monolithically male ones do. When a board includes a variety of viewpoints and attitudes, the boss’s bad ideas are more likely to be challenged.

Many senior women have made it to the top of their department, and even make it into the executive management team. But they find themselves at a loss because they just haven’t built the network they need to take them from being a respected professional to recognized expert to a formal director of a company on a corporate board. Unlike a job interview, the process to find yourself in the pool of potential board member doesn’t come with a hard and fast rule book. Executives are networked onto a Board, not
recruited, so to find yourself in that pool of candidates, you must not only have the experience and the reputation, but also the right connections.

Most women are so focused on being extremely competent at their jobs and also as a result become very focused internally. To be in a position to lead, one must first gain the “respect of their fellow board members. This seat at the table is earned. Board members want to know first that the individual has this special skill. The other important factor in being considered for these roles, is that you must develop a reputation (personal brand) in a specific area that is required at the board level, and develop a message that you become known for in a specific industry or a function across industries.
Women can hold themselves back by just expecting people to know what they want in life and their career, or what they’re capable of doing when actually you’ve got to go out and do it. Said, Heather Jackson, founder of the Women’s Business Forum, “It’s all about who you know. So many women treat networking as a ‘nice to have’ rather than an essential part of their business or career. Concurring with this view, Diane K. Danielson, President of the Downtown Women’s Club notes that “When it comes to board positions, just like promotions in the office, it’s very rare that someone will just notice your exemplary work and pluck you out and put you on a
board. You need to not only be your own advocate, but also build a network of advocates on your behalf.” She continued, “I would suggest that if you were looking to get on a board, make that a networking goal. Look at organisations that can help you do this and let people know, one, that you are interested in getting a board position; two, what type of board you
would like to sit on; and three, why you are qualified to do so.”

It’s not just about going to a networking event; it’s about truly engaging people in your story. Attending a networking event is not enough. You must follow through after the event intentionally to build trust and earn credibility. Women must approach a networking event like they would approach closing a sale. Networking and telling your story are the two most
critical tools for professional women today. The failure to effectively use these two tools is the gap in women on boards. There are thousands of competent women who are not utilizing networking and personal branding tools to place themselves on boards.

What To Expect When You Hire Me To Speak At Your Conference, Event or Company: Knowledge + Inspiration + Application = Results
I strive to make every talk (Some of my topics: Authentic leadership, Business Strategy, Getting More Referrals, Get More Clients: Fall in Love with Marketing & Selling, How To Really Use social media for Personal Branding & Networking etc.) not just knowledgeable and inspirational, but also immediately applicable. I believe that action creates change and results, not knowledge or inspiration alone. Your audience will laugh, take notes and get up on their feet as I get them all talking to each other

Oliver Chikodzore is The CEO of The African Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and Author of African Hidden Potential

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