I recently had the opportunity to meet two very impressive women at an event (as I often do!). During the course of the conversation we began to discuss the events surrounding the Presidential election. One of the women told me that she had the opportunity to follow the family member of a Presidential candidate on the campaign trail. When I asked her how she able to do that, she responded by telling me she was a producer for a major network. I again responded with great enthusiasm and she said, “oh it’s really not a big deal. I just do it part-time…I’m really just a warm body, a hired hand.”
I was so disappointed to hear her response. I was very honest and told her that she really needed to develop an elevator speech that was not so self-deprecating. Her friend replied, “You’re right, she has won two Emmy awards for her work on national news shows! ” Clearly, this woman was accomplished and had built an impressive career. I suggested a few key points to add to her elevator speech so that in similar situations she would be more prepared to respond with a few key points highlighting her competencies and accomplishments.
I often talk to mentees about how to construct and practice their elevator speech. The speech should be about 1-2 minutes, start with a clear articulation of name, your role and a bit about the company you represent. In this story, the women I met could have said:
“I’m Sue Jones, producer at _____ network, where I have worked for ____ years covering such stories as ______. I’ve had the pleasure of being called into action when needed for some of the most interesting stories such as _____.”
Now obviously that can be tailored to feel more off-the-cuff, casual or less structured. Just please be sure to steer clear of self-deprecation or minimizing your real accomplishments, as tempting as it may be to appear humble. If you don’t have an elevator speech, write one today and practice it in the car, or even in an elevator while alone!
[Photo courtesy of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia]
I’m on a train heading from Philadelphia to New York City for a meeting with a group of high-powered people in the healthcare industry. As usual, I’m taking time to review the attendee list and go over notes on their collective backgrounds. I just realized that I’ll be the only woman in the meeting.
Now I’m giving myself a mental pep talk,
“How do I position myself in the room, how will I get a word in edgewise with this group, will they simply dismiss me? Should I practice my power poses in the restroom to increase my testosterone? Remember, keep your voice directed, loud and low.”
Wow, it takes a lot of energy to do this. I’m sure the male attendees are not going through this exercise before entering the meeting.
I’ve always been drawn to the phrase, “chance favors the prepared,” and I’ve advised women many times on how to prepare for meetings such as this. Unfortunately, often times that means more than just doing the background work. For me I know it’s true, being a woman means spending a lot more of my energy on mental preparation for meetings. Who has felt the same way? What have you done to combat this imposter syndrome?
Sue Bell Yank is an arts organizer and writes about social practice in contemporary art. She has worked on the Watts House Project and was formerly the Assistant Director of Academic Programs at the Hammer Museum and the Director for Online Education at the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is currently the Director of Communications and Outreach at 18th Street Arts Center in Los Angeles.
Early on in my career in the arts, I worked at a small non-profit art gallery in Culver City for minimum wage, a couple of days a week. I was going to graduate school at the time, mostly to meet more people in the city and figure out where my place could be. One of my favorite professors was a New York transplant who had decided to make a go of it out west and start one of the most ambitious non-profit gallery programs in the city.
Working for her was not always easy – life is scrappy in a tiny arts non-profit. But the close quarters (literally – we were all squeezed into about 2 cubic yards of space in the “office”) gave me a front-row seat to how an arts organization can be run, and it was the best education I could have gotten. Artists screamed, curators cried, we laughed and drank (sometimes), we gossiped, and tried our very best to produce important contemporary art exhibitions.
But what she ultimately gave me was much more valuable than the 10 dollars an hour I was making. She was connected to a web of artists, students, and arts workers, and unconditionally generous with her contacts. Seeing any possible sparks of interest and commonality, she set about inserting me into this network so I could create threads of my own. One of these introductions was to Edgar Arceneaux, who was embarking on an ambitious community-engaged art project called Watts House Project, which combined arts, social justice, and community participation. Working on that project and all of its complications allowed me to find my place in the art world (supporting the work of socially-engaged artists), my own personal mission (access to arts education for all), and my next job at the Hammer Museum.
To be clear, I wish that I had been paid more, and I always have advocated (mostly unsuccessfully) for paying interns a living wage. However, it’s a sad reality that work in the arts thrives on unpaid or minimum wage entry level positions (a reality I have been complicit in), and this prevents many people who can’t otherwise afford to work for so little from rising up. But non-profits working on incredibly tight budgets have little choice – oftentimes free intern labor means the difference between creating world-class programs and closing up shop. So we trade on cultural capital – connections, community, reputation – in order to gain more clout and opportunity later in our careers.
Cultural capital worked for me, even through those lean years, because of the privileged position I was working from. I vowed I would mentor other young people rising up, connect them, and give them as much advice as I could – but also to advocate for more equity in the arts. I got the opportunity to do that at the Hammer, where much of my job included working with UCLA students as interns and Hammer Student Association members. It’s been one of my greatest pleasures to watch former students infiltrate the rest of the art world, spreading far and wide. Much of this was due to their own ingenuity and drive, but also to the professional opportunities they got at the Hammer. I also wrote more recommendation letters than I can count.
Early on, most of the questions I got were about how to meet people in the art world, how to get connected, how to get opportunities. But recently those questions have shifted a bit. As I grow older, the women I mentor have also grown older – in their mid to late twenties rather than just out of college. And these women are much more concerned about sustainability. How can a job in the art world actually pay enough money to live? How do I balance wanting to have children with a demanding career that more often than not invades your personal life?
I’m not sure what to tell them. The truth is, arts jobs do not pay well. I’m not sure they ever will. And things are not easy for a working mother of two young children in a field where trendsetters have little regard for the need to pick up your children from daycare, feed them, and kiss them goodnight.
The wonderful thing about the arts, though, is that in LA at least, it can be a rich community. There are ways to raise concerns with key members of your community and advocate for change. Many artists and arts administrators I have worked with are caring, thoughtful, social justice-minded people who are all in this together. They wrack their brains and argue about things like education equity, community cohesion, gentrification, gift-based economies…because oftentimes, the best art is about questioning the status quo and considering questions of equity. When I worked a brief stint in the entertainment industry, I missed that. I took a large pay cut to return to the arts, and I’m so much happier amongst my people. The line from the Metric song Other Side kept running through my head:
All we want is to feel like all we got didn’t cost us everything, even if we never win.”
I traded actual capital for social capital, and there found my way again. Forming, maintaining, and sharing a strong web of relationships, finding your community and your mission, and then advocating for yourself and your family in the midst of it is key to making it all work. Another wise former boss of mine told me to “Find your people, and bring new people in.” In any world, that’s possible.
I belong to a group of women leaders who meet once a year with the goal of providing mutual personal and professional support and advice. In this post, I want to talk about how this group functions and how important and meaningful it has been for me.
There are two rules to this club: 1) What gets said in the group stays within the group, and 2) If a member gets in touch with you during the year, you must respond within 24 hours, even if just to say, “I’m away but will get back to you on this date.”
The group was established around thirty years ago by women leaders in the pharma industry. They saw their male counterparts going on golf outings and fly fishing trips with each other and decided to start a personal/professional support tradition of their own.
At the annual meeting, usually held at a resort, each person gets time in front of the rest of the group to make a presentation about what is happening in her life professionally and personally (because these are so often interconnected). After the presentation, discussion is opened up to the group, who may provide insight and advice on either topic. There are also some impromptu regional meetings, in addition to the regular annual one.
What has struck me every year with these remarkable women is that everyone has a personal journey, and it can be incredibly powerful for us as professionals to support that journey. This is the true purpose of affinity and networking groups — they’re not just forums for shrewdly angling for a better position or a higher salary. They’re for generating understanding, for thinking of new ways to approach challenges, and for listening to advice from like minded people.
If you don’t have an affinity or networking group within your organization, see if you can develop one. It’s not hard! Focus on activities that engender professional and personal support and mentoring. Address the idea of confidentiality. Put a little bit of structure around it. In my group, nominations for new members must come from three existing members. This means that anyone entering the group most likely relates well to its goals and culture; they’re well-accomplished and have reached a certain level in order to be there. Be aware of and seek out diverse backgrounds in your members. Elect leadership to the group; consider collecting dues and hiring an event organizer for big meetings.
Lisa Suennen over at Venture Valkyrie has written an excellent article about this group and some of the quotable quotes that came out of our meeting.
Let’s face it: networking isn’t always at the top of our priority list. It can be awkward, time consuming, and after a long work week, it’s often much less appealing than the couch. However, it is an essential part of advancing your career. I often tell my own children, “you will likely get a job through who you know rather than through your education or your work experience.” These days, it is not enough to keep your head down and produce A+ work. You need to connect with others, be vocal about your interests and career goals, and build relationships with people you might not otherwise have met.
I will share with you a prime example of why networking is important. A few months ago, I was invited by a friend to attend a women corporate directors event. While I serve on many non-profit boards, it has long been a career goal of mine to sit on a corporate board. I mentioned this to my friend, and she thought this event would be a great opportunity. As I prepared to pack up and leave the office, I felt exhausted and tempted to drive right home. Not wanting to let my friend down, I forced myself to head downtown and attend the event.
It turned out that she had to cancel at the last minute. So there I was, entering a room full of people whom I did not know. I peered over at the elevator and thought, “this is my chance to make an exit and go home to relax.” However, I again forced myself to be disciplined and headed into the event. There were many groups of two and three, but I finally spotted someone alone and walked up to them. I introduced myself and over the course of the evening, she introduced me to a number of interesting women that I have since added to my network of contacts. Now, what if I had driven home instead, or let discomfort or fear of not knowing anyone dissuade me from walking in? It would have been an opportunity missed.
This was not the first time I’ve walked into a room without knowing anyone, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Over the years, I developed a few tips for how to make the most of your networking. I hope my approach will help you enter these encounters with your best foot forward:
Networking should always be done with an intention and not just to collect business cards and be seen. Approach networking like you approach your work—set a goal for yourself and find a networking opportunity that meets that goal. In my situation above, it was as simple as, “I want to learn more about corporate boards.”
It can be tough to walk up to a stranger and start conversation, no matter how confident you are. But having a line ready to go in order to generate conversation is crucial. I have found much success with a simple, “What brings you here to this event?” It works every time—it goes straight to the point and builds on your first common interest: that fact that you’re both there for a reason!
- Be Open About Your Career Goals
Had I not felt comfortable in speaking about my intention for the corporate networking event I discussed, it’s likely I never would have achieved my goal in attending the event, nor taken anything away from the event besides a few business cards . Often times, we don’t want to come off as pushy or disingenuous, so we tiptoe around our goals in networking. But I encourage you to speak up about your goals, so that you can connect with people who can actually help you take steps towards achieving them.
If you have a great conversation with someone at a networking event and exchange contact information, send a note to him or her and remark on your interaction. Tell the person something specific you enjoyed about speaking with them. If you offered to connect them with someone else, follow through. Networking isn’t over when you walk out of the event!