In the world of consumerism and brand ambassadorship, “there’s no one a woman trusts more for advice, recommendations, and guidance than another woman in her circle,” writes Lisa Stone, CEO and co-founder of BlogHer, a leading online news and information resource for women.
The same clearly holds true for law and other arenas, where women bonding in professional, networking and other powerful circles enhance life and career opportunities for one another.
Drawing women lawyers, executives and professionals from across Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area, Watermark and Leading Women in Technology are two shining examples of such groups. After connecting with their leaders through both panel discussions and personal conversations, I am more convinced than ever that the straightest, truest road to 5/165 (and the 30 percent mark for women in all professions) is the one laid down by women themselves.
Founded in 1993 as a forum for women entrepreneurs, Watermark, now led by former Cisco Chief Diversity Officer Marilyn Nagel, has since evolved into a vibrant networking and support community for exceptional women leaders across various industries. Exemplifying Watermark at work is Elisa-Marie Dumas, vice president of sponsor and member development.
Known as the “über-connecter,” Elisa-Marie has facilitated valuable new relationships for countless women, a process that starts with a deep understanding of each woman’s goals and aspirations. Then, it’s a matchup with like-minded, compatible women, and the strategic networking and personal advancement begins in earnest. Sponsorship, as distinct from mentorship, is a major emphasis: Helping, inspiring and learning from one another, the women of Watermark develop the confidence to speak up and promote themselves.
The GC Forum, formed in 2004 within Watermark, works specifically with women in law. Co-chair and co-founder Susan Marsch, deputy general counsel for multibillion dollar contract manufacturer Flextronics, focuses on helping women build their personal brand, create their own opportunities and move away from doubt to confidently negotiate on their own behalf.
Another “über-connecter” is software executive Mona Sabet. In 2004, while head of intellectual property for a software company, she co-founded Women in Licensing, a Licensing Executive Society committee focused on helping women in technology and IP licensing. Demand was such that in 2010, the organization, renamed Leading Women in Technology, was expanded to reach all women advising and shaping the technology industry.
As Mona, the non-profit organization’s director, explains, women across business organizations and at different career stages connect and engage in mutual support, mentoring and learning.
Monthly workshops focus on key career development topics, while cross-functional interactions facilitate learning among lawyers, finance professionals and salespeople. Especially noteworthy are the specialized networking programs of Wilpower (for mid-level professionals) and HiPower (for senior-level professionals). When women on the rise meet women who have arrived, Mona says, the effect is galvanizing, especially when you meet on a regular basis, which strengthens the inspiration even further.
“Thirty percent inclusion for women is one good goal,” she told me. “But we are going for 50 percent.”
Loud and clear, that’s precisely the thinking required to move women forward. Join the club. (And be sure to let me know your own experiences in the comments section.)