And Ryckman should know. As author of "Stiletto Network: Inside the Women's Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business," she spoke with literally thousands of women about a groundbreaking movement that has taken root nationwide.
In numbers never before seen, women are teaming up in cities across America to talk amongst themselves. While women banding together to exchange info is nothing new, there's something different about these live chat groups, which are taking the shape of networking circles, dinner groups and salons.
What's made this an emerging trend is that these women are successfully mixing business with pleasure – to the tune of billions of dollars in deals. They might start out talking about their kids and end up championing a cause, funding a new business or receiving resources and connections that help catapult them to the next stage of their career.
The dinner table has become the new golf course. Instead of having to invest in golf lessons and check their heels at the door to have a chance at schmoozing with the power players (who traditionally have been mostly men), women have started to create their own business playground.
And it's a setting that's decidedly feminine. Ryckman notes that the "stiletto network" she observed featured women comfortable in their own skin – not a shoulder pad amongst them. These women rely on typically female strengths of communication, networking and friendship to help give other women (and themselves) a boost up to achieve success and clout. Whether someone needs information, a recommendation, an intro, a partnership, or capital to fund a venture, it's happening over drinks and dinner during "girls' night out."
Here are five tips, based on an interview with Ryckman, about how women can work their own networks to increase their power potential:
Start in your own backyard. Don't have a lot of money to invest in your business goals? Feel disconnected from other women who might help you gain more opportunity in your career? Take the initiative and start a dinner or networking group. It doesn't have to be formal or fancy, and it can start with just knowing a handful of women to invite out or over. Ask each person to invite another interesting woman to join the meet-up. Aim for a total of around 10 people, and start schmoozing. You might be surprised how many opportunities will arise by simply getting a group like this together without an agenda.
Branch out across industries. Your stiletto network will be more powerful if it draws on the experience of a wide range of women with different backgrounds, skill sets and resources. Social media has been a great door opener to allow more cross-industry pollination, which exposes you to people outside of your own bubble at work and gives you potential access to a much wider range of influences. Mimic what works about social media in forming your collaboration klatch. Break out of your usual functional silo when it comes to socializing, and watch your opportunities expand.
Think of what she wants first. Have you ever been to a networking event where those you met seemed focused on selling themselves or on figuring out how you could help them? This is the wrong way to go if you want to develop the types of relationships that will open doors to your future power potential. It's an old adage, but it's as true in building a stiletto network as it was in kindergarten: it's better to "lead with the give" – and offer before you ask – in these situations.
Be the hub. Do you have something of value to another person's career, perhaps a key introduction or a connection to someone with resources that can help another woman succeed? Make it happen. It reflects well on you, and will lead to more business opportunities for yourself as well, if you're seen as someone who connects others.
Know the person, not the résumé. The key behind women's growing power in stiletto networks lies in the fact that the women involved really know and care about each other. They either start out as friends, or become friends, through the process of getting together. Fair or not, the business world runs on relationships. Just as you are more likely to give someone a recommendation or an edge whom you know well over a stranger, so too are women who are in a position to help steer your career in directions that might ultimately increase your level of wealth and power. So don't view meeting other women as work you must do. If you think of your stiletto network as a way to find more friends to have cocktails with, positive business outcomes will likely follow.
Robin Madell has spent two decades as a writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, and diversity issues. She has interviewed over 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. Robin serves as a speechwriter and ghostwriter for CEOs and top executives, with a specialized focus on women in business. She is author of Surviving Your 30s: Americans Talk About Life After 30, which is scheduled for publication in June 2013.