The most precious gift we can give one another is our time. Time for conversations, reflection, advice, and sparring. We learn as much about ourselves as we do about each other when we take the time to listen. But those transformational conversations don’t happen when we are in a rush. They happen as a result of trust accumulated over time. And the more we advance in our careers the more scarce our time.
This is understandable. Senior jobs are demanding, often involve a lot of travel, and have a relentless pace. Women not only work long hours but have their families to look after as well. The implicit effect of this is a whittling down of all things non-essential. Networking events seldom feel like a good use of time. Lots of strangers meet, exchange business cards, move on to never meet again. It doesn’t take long before the disillusionment sets in. We forgo anything non-essential, double down on our work and the payback seems immediate. Until we need some advice. Or would like to tap into skills and experience not part of our existing network.
We realize the cumulative effect of our extreme focus. Our networks have narrowed. Likely, colleagues from our company, from our function and others from our industry? This was fine when we wanted to do more of what we were already doing. What if we wanted to explore something else? Change function, company, industry, country? Learn something new? See our own blind spots and receive advice. It is lonely at the top they say. We become even lonelier when we get stuck in groupthink.
I was recently listening to the new series of HBR podcasts called Women at Work. The second episode (Couples that Work), describes four distinct phases of female careers. The 20s are where women increasingly double down on their careers and postpone having families to their early 30s. Companies focus on developing their most promising talent when employees hit their 30s. Women may miss some of the early opportunities, but are back in their 40s and become frustrated if opportunities are not available. For many, the 50s become the era for a second wind in their careers, and women can have a large impact.
This brings up a small but significant fact. If senior women do not continue to build, extend and diversify their networks, they may struggle to realise their potential. The answer is not another large network with countless members. It is about quality. About that most precious of all, time. We will only part with our time if it is worth it. It can only be worth it if we can accumulate trust in one another over time. For this, we need a close-knit group where we feel understood. And for the members to have relevant experience to share and time, for us. Time to learn, be inspired and become our best selves. And approach networking with greater focus.
Zella King, the co-founder of Personal Boardroom, makes this point very well. She invites us to think carefully of the roles we need around us, the kind of advice we will need to move forward. As we were our own business, and had a board of directors. Who would be in yours?