No lines in the ladies room. That’s what I noticed at a recent financial services industry conference where there were roughly 200 men and 12 women in attendance. The conference was for business owners and C-suite executives—movers and shakers. It is all too true that the industry is male-dominated and few women have broken through the ranks to senior executive roles. That said, we women of the industry know of each other, and as a group we could have certainly filled more seats in the room.
Being an advocate for gender diversity, I asked the organizer why he hadn’t invited more women. I was feeling quite certain he’d have a sheepish response. Instead, he replied, “For every 10 men I invite, five show up. I have to invite 20 women just to get one to attend!” This was not what I had expected to hear.
After taking time to think about it, I decided there could be several reasons women don’t show up in these industry settings:
- It seems uncomfortable or less fun when you are one of few women—why go through that?
- Women are often already spread thin between work and family pressures—who has the time?
- Women often underestimate the value of the “social” network—what’s the payoff?
How do you make industry events, in typically male-oriented sectors, more comfortable? Let’s tackle the steps one at a time.
- Enlist a friend (male or female) to come with you. Maybe they can be your “wingman” and introduce you to people, or make it more comfortable for you to speak with groups of strangers.
- In terms of time management, build a plan for yourself and stick to it—maybe designate time to attend an event once a quarter in the closest big city.
- Most industries have a certain number of national, regional or local meetings or functions. Instead of feeling pressured to attend all industry events, become a “regular” in one conference or meeting series. Having a consistent presence will go a long way. Through this, you will begin to see definitive results from creating a professional “network.”
- The designated networking and social hours at events are always where the payoff occurs—each conversation can lead to a business or career opportunity. Don’t skip the social hour, work it!
- Try to find a few people you can follow up with after the meeting to establish a greater connection—make sure you exchange business cards, too, and hopefully you will start running into these people again at your future events.
You won’t get anywhere if you don’t show up, but that is the biggest barrier to overcome. It seems lonely at first, ladies. The more we show up for ourselves and each other, the better we will all do. Let’s hope for lines in the ladies room!
Gail Graham is senior vice president of strategy and execution at United Capital, a national partnership of private wealth counseling offices. She is responsible for all aspects of branding, marketing and lead generation as well as strategy and business planning.
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