I once heard Diane von Furstenberg speak, and she talked about how she starts her mornings. And among the things she listed, she said one thing that has stuck with me ever since: She starts off her day by doing something nice for someone else that has no benefit to her. This past week, as part of panel discussion for Engage! Cleveland‘s annual YP week, I was asked a question about some tips and ideas to support women. It got me thinking about the things that I do to help advance women both within and outside my organization, and also the things that other people have done, or might do, to help me advance too.
- Mentor women: mentorship is a huge component of women’s advancement, particularly in the workplace. Every workplace has its politics, and mentorship is one way to help women navigate these potential minefields. In fact, mentor several women – most people have (or should have) a suite of mentors, so you might be one of a few mentors for an individual. You don’t have to be someone’s boss or superior to be a mentor – peer mentors and subordinate mentors are equally valuable.
- Sponsor women: Mentorship is not enough. One of the most impactful things you can do for a woman’s career is to sponsor her – be her voice, and her advocate, when she’s not in the room. I consider this the next level in mentorship – it’s hard to be a sponsor when you don’t know a person, so it is more natural for mentor to elevate themselves to the sponsor role than having a stranger or observer be a sponsor.
- Be the steward of opportunity: I borrowed this phrase from KeyBank CEO Beth Mooney. She was talking about her journey to CEO, and how she didn’t do it alone. It took people believing in her, recognizing her ability, and giving her opportunities to showcase her talents. In her role as a leader she believes it is important for her to be the steward of opportunity, just as others were for her. So many women don’t take opportunities simply because they don’t know those opportunities exist. If you are aware of opportunities (in companies, in non profits, in the community), be a steward and encourage a woman to pursue them. And if you’re in a position to provide those opportunities, consider women for them – it might take a personal phone call or email to encourage them to apply, but it’s an important step in the direction toward more balanced representation in leadership.
- Nominate them for awards: There are so many awards receptions in Northeast Ohio, and each year it seems like it is the same group of women honored at them. No doubt, these are amazing women who are leaders in their respective fields and communities, but what about all the other equally amazing women out there who are not being recognized simply because no one has nominated them? If you are a sponsor or mentor, or simply someone who appreciates the talent and handwork of someone else, nominate her for an award. Crain’s Cleveland, WELD, Smart Business, YWCA — these are just 4 of the many institutions and media outlets who bestow honors annually – even if you nominate just one person for one award, you are making a difference.
- Connect them with your network: Everyone has a network. As you meet women and talk to them and learn about what they’re doing or what they’re interested in, connect them with people in your network who may be able to either offer them additional guidance or resources, or more directly help them get to where they want to go. This is particularly true of female entrepreneurs when they are seeking capital or looking to grow – you have power both individually and via your network, and you can use it to make a difference.
The next set of ideas is probably most applicable to entrepreneurs, but if these make sense to apply toward a woman in your organization, by all means feel free to use them.
6. Buy their work: Support female entrepreneurs with your money and buy their work. It can be so tempting to just quickly order something on Amazon or buy it at Target, but a little bit of research can go a long way in supporting a female entrepreneur. Your Local Girl Gang is a great resource to help in this endeavor with hundreds of local women-owned business listings for Northeast Ohio. Keep your money local where you can – you’re helping reinvest in your community.
7. Read their content: A number of local women aren’t selling something tangible, but they may be writing on their own websites, or for sites like She In The CLE, or even writing LinkedIn blog posts. Read their posts – perhaps you find something that resonates with you or someone you know, or maybe something that gives you a different perspective.
8. Engage with them on social media: Facebook business pages and groups, Instagram posts, stories, and IGTV, Twitter, LinkedIn – you can find women-owned businesses on almost all social media channels – follow them, comment on their posts, share their content – these actions may seem small and insignificant, but they are incredibly impactful. Not only does it help with exposure, but it also indirectly helps these small business owners with the algorithms for each of these platforms.
9. Subscribe to their email lists: This is another one that may seem insignificant, but subscribing to an email list ensures that you will receive their updates and content regardless of algorithms, and adds true, measurable value for a small business owner.
10. Share, Share, Share: like idea #5, sharing an entrepreneur’s work either via social media or via word of mouth to your friends and family has a tremendous impact. Whether you consider it or not, you ARE an influencer to at least one other person – your recommendations and either implicit or explicit endorsement will be a factor, no matter how big or small, in someone else’s decision.
Like Diane, you too can start your day by doing something for someone else – it may be of no benefit to you directly, but you will be doing something that makes a difference, and isn’t all that good karma worth the effort?