Santa Barbara, California - Competing with other women is out. Connecting with other women to share ideas, work together on projects, and offer support is in. The changes brought about by the global economy have made collaboration and innovation "must-have" skills, and the great news is that women tend to be naturals at them. And that, says clinical psychologist Dr. Nancy D. O'Reilly, is why the women-helping-women movement is really picking up steam.
"We're making a shift to what I call 'Connecting 2.0,'" says O'Reilly, who along with 19 other women, cowrote the new book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life (Adams Media, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-440-58417-6, $16.99, www.drnancyoreilly.com). "It's more meaningful than the 'mile-wide and inch-deep' type of connecting we associate with social media. It's based on sharing and co-creating, not self-interest. It's authentic, it feels good, and it works."
This deeper approach to connecting works so well, in fact, that we are creating an ever-expanding network of resources offering expertise and support to women in business, government, education, philanthropy, and other fields. The idea is not just to advance our careers and make money, but to make life itself richer, more exciting, and more creative.
"This is more than a trend; it's a movement—and women are loving it," says O'Reilly. "More and more smart, amazing women are connecting to help their 'sisters' live their very best lives. These likeminded women are passionate about making the world a better place so they are finding one another and building strong, supportive communities."
The women-helping-women movement is nothing like the phony, self-serving, let's-exchange-cards-and-move-on networking that most of us hate. Sure, connecting with other women does pay off in amazing ways, but the rewards flow organically from our "feminine strengths" and a genuine desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
You may be wondering, Where do I sign up? The answer is "everywhere." This is not some exclusive club—it's open to all women with passion, enthusiasm, and a yearning to live a richer, more fulfilling life and maybe even change the world. But O'Reilly knows you may not be used to thinking this way. That's why she offers the following tips:
First things first: Aim for a good mix of online and face-to-face connecting. It's easy to send an email message, and it's really easy to like, to share, to follow in the world of social media. That's why so many women do it. (It's easy to push a key or click a mouse after all.) And while there is nothing wrong with social media, it's also no substitute for real-world human interaction. The women-helping-women movement depends on both types of connecting: virtual and face-to-face.
"If you're burning up social media, consider taking an online contact offline," she advises. "Tell her you'd love to meet her for lunch the next time she's in town. Conversely, if you're proudly 'old school' and are neglecting your social media presence, dive in. You really need a foot in both worlds."
· Join a new group that interests you and really attend the meetings. Make them a priority. It doesn't matter what activity it's based on. This may be a book circle or a kayaking club or a community cause. What's important is that you're getting together with other women who share a common interest—and that you go to meetings and events often enough to let these strong connections develop.
"It's the shared passion for the activity that generates the connections," notes O'Reilly. "And those connections take on a life of their own. You may end up forging alliances, finding jobs, winning clients—even though that's not the 'purpose' for the group."
· Get on a different team at work. We tend to stick to our comfort zone. But shaking things up from time to time keeps you sharp and puts you in the path of exciting new people. When you work with women you don't know on projects you're unfamiliar with, you will learn, grow, and often discover vital new talents and interests.
· Get involved in a philanthropic cause that speaks to your heart. Women who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents, and treasure are the kinds of women you want to meet. They tend to be "other-oriented" and want to make new connections, too. So whether your "cause" is homeless animals, kids with cancer, adult literacy, or clean oceans, get involved.
"I actually met the 19 women who cowrote the book through my Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation," she adds. "In fact, the book is living proof of the kind of collaboration that happens when women make connections based on their desire to serve."
· Think about what you need to learn. Seek out mentors who can help you learn it. Let's say you have a small catering company specializing in weddings, parties, and family reunions. You'd like to expand into the healthcare conference arena but know nothing about the field. You might reach out to someone who plans such conferences and offer to trade services—perhaps cater an upcoming event for free or for a greatly reduced price—in exchange for the chance to learn and get a foot in the door.
"You're not asking for something for free," notes O'Reilly. "You're also bringing something to the table. Who knows: Her clients may love your fresh approach, and it could result in the two of you starting a whole new venture."
· Likewise, give back to women who need your expertise. In other words, don't just seek out mentors. Be a mentor to women who can benefit from your knowledge and experience. It's "good karma" and it can pay off in unexpected ways.
· Take a class. (And don't just sit there; talk to your neighbor.) Whether it's continuing education for your job, a creative writing class at the local community college, or even a martial arts training session, actively pursue new knowledge and skills. This will bring new and interesting women into your life—women who, just by being there, show that they have a zest for life and learning.
· Volunteer your speaking services. Yes, yes, you hate public speaking. Many women do. But taking to the podium is a powerful way to get your voice heard, to build up your confidence, and of course to make new connections with those who hear you speak. And there are many civic and service organizations—like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club—that need speakers.
· Handpick five to ten powerful women in your community and ask them to participate in an event. This might be a roundtable discussion that takes place at an industry conference or a community fundraiser, for example. And don't think that busy, important women won't have time for you, says O'Reilly.
"Remember, women love sharing stories, best practices, and ideas," she says. "You might be surprised by how many will say yes."
· If you're invited, go. When someone invites you to an event or gathering—whether it's an industry trade show, a party, or a hiking trip—go if you can. Yes, even if you're tired, out-of-sorts, and feeling blah.
"Say yes if it's remotely possible," advises O'Reilly. "There are always reasons to say no and some of them are good reasons. But overall, life rewards action. Life rewards yes. The more times you say yes, the more connections you will make. The more connections you make, the richer and more creative your life will be."
· Set a goal to meet "X" new women per month. Insert your own number, depending on your circumstances and personality. Hold yourself to this number (it will help greatly to keep track in a journal or calendar). If you take this metric seriously, you'll figure out how to make it happen. And while meeting isn't the same as connecting, it's the essential first step.
"Let's say your goal is to meet five new women this month, and it's the last day of the month and you have two to go," says O'Reilly. "You can always pop into the spin class at your gym, or maybe go to an open house or political rally. While you're there, of course, strike up conversations with at least two women and introduce yourself." Voilà! You've met your goal!
While women are naturally good at connecting, it doesn't happen automatically, notes O'Reilly. We really do have to make an effort.
"Most of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we just don't make it a priority to connect with other women," she says. "We really do have to be deliberately purposeful about it. The benefits of connecting with other women are incredible, so we owe it to ourselves—and each other—to make it happen."