When we look at how networks took shape before the advent of the internet, we see that the most influential connections we made were based on proximity. Overall diversity was oftentimes lacking, in the sense that our networks tended to be comprised of people like us: people in similar industries, regions, career stages, and roles. Naturally, we built relationships with people we came in contact with; networking was tied to deep, in-person relationship building.
Over the past twenty years, as we’ve witnessed the rise of digital media, our networks have grown exponentially. We can connect with anyone around the world. We’re able to find people in different industries, in different roles, and at different types of companies. While there is great power in this — just as diverse companies yield higher returns, diverse networks do, too — it’s hard to grasp how to foster and build relationships most effectively in an entirely digital sphere. We can connect with someone on LinkedIn, but what does that mean? How do we nurture true connections in this digital age?
As someone with a broad network (it is part of my job, after all), I often contemplate questions such as, “How do I best engage with my network? How do I better get to know my connections? How do I keep these relationships top-of-mind in a world where we are often rushing from one appointment to the next?” We all strive to create and foster networks that are ever-growing, dynamic, and impactful, and often we are unsure how to do that. This is something we’ve thought a lot about at Ellevate, and these conversations and questions have influenced the way that we approach relationship building, and the programs that we create to help our members achieve these important goals.
This desire to build living networks, made of authentic connections (especially in the digital sphere), influenced the creation of our Ellevate Squads program. We thought long and hard about how women naturally connect, how we build relationships, and how we support one another in progressing professionally and achieving our goals. We talked to people who had been successful in building these networks, we looked at communities where authentic connections were the driving force, and we found that they all had this in common: they met with each other consistently and regularly to lend support, to talk about their lives and their jobs, to take a few minutes out of the day for genuine connection. It quickly became clear that this idea of regularity was essential in not only establishing but maintaining meaningful relationships.
So how do we do that in today’s online space? As it turns out, the very digital arena we are so concerned with overcoming offers a solution to one of the most significant barriers impeding women from meeting on a regular basis: time.
We all have careers. We’re commuting, we have families, and we are beholden to countless other responsibilities. It’s hard to take the time out to attend many networking events, or to do in-person meetings. With the Ellevate Squads program, we match groups of six to eight women who are at similar career stages, but are diverse in their backgrounds, their experiences, and their thinking, who meet once a week on video chat. There’s no travel time required, and meeting times are flexible based on the needs of the group. We’ve seen that this twelve-week time period — wherein women dedicate just half an hour a week to connect with their peers, to talk about their careers, and to support one another — is transformational. Our participants build and shape profound relationships, and they’re able to do so because of the convenience of modern technology.
Many women have told me that their groups have continued to meet after the assigned twelve-week period, sometimes even traveling to visit each other cross-country. They are able to establish the in-person connections long thought lost in the online sphere, and are receiving the same career-boosting benefits that in-person relationships give: seven out of 10 participants have a positive or very positive outlook on their career after completing the Squads program, and 73% report being exposed to innovations and ideas they never would have imagined possible. Women have started to see the boundless depth of relationships available to them in this digital age, and these opportunities will only grow as more women get on board.
We know that building meaningful relationships and fostering connections in a traditional digital space can be hard. It’s easy to find people in an online directory, but it can be a challenge to make the kind of personal and authentic connections that lead to a thriving community. At Ellevate, we believe in the power of combining community and technology to overcome this obstacle of intimacy in our digital world and foster the transformational connections that lead to success. It takes work to build that kind of authentic and powerful community in today’s digital space, but it is vital that we do so. When we are exposed to larger networks, to more opportunity, to more diversity of thought, and to the support that we need, we see more and more women advance in their careers. We see it happen every day at Ellevate. It’s time the rest of the world saw it, too.
Kristy Wallace is the CEO of Ellevate Network, and is responsible for executing Ellevate Network’s mission of changing the culture of business from the inside out by providing professional women with a supportive community to lean on and learn from. Kristy is host of the Ellevate Podcast and is also a regular speaker and thought leader on Diversity & Inclusion, Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship, Networking, and Entrepreneurialism.