If you want to see me passionate—even a little exercised—bring up the need for professional women to have networks.
The reality is that having a network gets you nothing. Zero. But building one strategically and maintaining it regularly can pay huge dividends in your career. Men do this all the time and it’s one of the reasons they get ahead.
So how do you build the kind of network that will get you what you want?
I pondered that question as we welcomed Jacqueline Wales to an UPWARD event. Jacqueline is the Founder and CEO of the leadership consultancy Innerfluence and the author of The Fearless Factor. She was also a member of the UPWARD board.
Jacqueline has lived all over Europe and the United States and built powerful networks wherever she’s landed. Those networks have led her to projects with everyone from Oracle and AMD to the FBI and Standard and Poor’s.
“I came to San Francisco two years ago without knowing many people,” she said. “I had friends but didn’t really know people in the community. So I made it a point to do so.”
In listening to her, I was struck by three things that every woman can do, right now, to build a more powerful network: honest self-appraisal, strategic circle drawing, and diligent follow through.
Grab A Pencil
The first part of building a useful network requires a pencil, a piece of paper, and your honesty. It demands that you focus on two things: your fears and your aspirations.
As Jacqueline reminded us, it’s important to know our fears. We all have them, but it’s how we move past them that matters most.
“Being fearless is not the absence of fear, but the choices and decisions we make to get past the fears in our lives,” she said.
So make a list of your professional fears. Then, and this is important, look for the evidence that they have a basis in reality. You may find is that there is little evidence to support many of the things that worry you.
With your fears on one side of the paper, flip it over and list your aspirations. Chart out in specific terms what you want in your career. It could be to lead larger team, change industries, or run a startup.
With that list complete, look again for the evidence to support where you’re completely capable of achieving that success—and where you need help.
Draw A Few Circles
Having done this very simple exercise, you have a powerful, evidence-based understanding of yourself: where you have reasons to caution, where you don’t, and a true sense of your aspirations and what you need to achieve them.
In other words, you know exactly what you need in a network. So now it’s time to start building one.
Every person’s network will be different because we’re all looking for something specific. So start by listing the things you need. It could be a mentor, a venture finance advisor, or simply a trusted voice. Then put your name at the center of a circle and on the outer ring list the five to ten key people you think can help.
“Our lives are really built on support, on relationships,” said Jacqueline. “Building these strong relationships, that’s where they come in.”
At the same time, keep attending events like those at UPWARD and look for people who can fill in the gaps.
But be picky. It’s better to leave with five business cards of people that can really help you than twenty cards of those you know you’ll never call. And never, ever, fail to offer help to someone in return: if they are going to give their time to you, make sure you offer to do the same.
As you ask the members of your circle for guidance, chances are they will introduce you to even more people and you’ll find new circles forming—and that people with the very help you need will move into your orbit.
Keep Following Through
One of the infuriating double standards for professional women is that we work 80% to 90% of the time at our job and are great at them—yet our male colleagues work half as much and get far more attention.
Of the many reasons for this situation, one is this: men spend less time doing their actual jobs because they’re maintaining their professional networks. You need to do the same thing.
Spend time being visible, talking about your successes, describing what you want in your career, about your dreams and ambitions. We tend not to do those things as professional women—but we ignore them at our own peril.
What if you lose your job? Or, come back to the workforce after starting a family? The last thing you want to do is build a network at the very time you need one. That means you have to get out of the trenches, now, and invest some large part of your time investing in and maintaining your network.
Look for the people you need. Tend to your network wisely. You will be amazed at what will happen.
If you missed Jacqueline’s topical discussion, you can view it from our videos page.

With only word-of-mouth support UPWARD has soared from 50 members to more than 6,500+ and is adding 50-100 members each month. This growth rate underscores the desire of professional women to break down the structural barriers to their success: a lack of access to informal networks, a lack of female role models, and a lack of sponsors who can help move us into the careers we want.
In addition to founding UPWARD, I am SVP and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at National Grid Ventures.
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