Networking has a negative connotation. Perhaps it’s because when we think of the word, this image comes to mind: entering a room with an agenda to meet an intimidating group of perceived successful business leaders and professionals schmoozing their way to the top of career ladders. Networking becomes synonymous with competition and comparison, and as Roosevelt so eloquently put it: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
But it’s difficult to deny that the seduction of inadequacy serves as a tempting excuse to avoid networking – not just with top-tier professionals, but with anyone in the workplace. It is particularly intimidating and frustrating to voice ideas and thoughts in a work environment dominated by a significant gender gap.
This is where President Obama’s female staffers came up with a creative strategy to ensure that their voices were heard in the White House. When President Obama first took office, most of Obama’s senior staffers were men who had worked on his campaign and consequently took cabinet posts.
It was exceptionally difficult for women to break into that circle. Often, women officials had to elbow their way into presidential gatherings, and even when they were present in the meeting rooms, their voices were often overlooked.
So the women in the White House adopted an “amplification” technique in meetings to make sure that their voices would influence decision-making. When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it and credit the author in order to prevent others in the meeting claiming the ideas as their own.
“We made a purpose of doing it,” stated one former aide to Mr. Obama. “It was an everyday thing.”
Inspired by shine theory, the amplification strategy allowed for women to gain recognition in a historically predominantly male work environment. According to other female staffers, Obama noticed and began to call more frequently on women and junior aides.
While the early days of Obama’s administration tended heavily towards a male-dominated cabinet, there have been considerable changes in Obama’s second term. Half of all White House departments, from the National Security Council to the Office of Legislative Affairs, are headed by women, and there now exists an even gender split among his top aides.
However, women continue to struggle in breaking the power code present in the White House. National security adviser Susan E. Rice served throughout Obama’s administration, and in previous positions, Rice explained that she had to push to receive entry into key gatherings. “It’s not pleasant,” she states, “to have to appeal to a man to say, ‘Include me in that meeting.’”
It’s a clique of the worst kind, and a blatant one at that. And while second terms have traditionally served as a critical period for women, an observation that is aptly reflected in President Obama’s second term, I am indignant that women should have to wait until the second term in order to have a place at the table, so to speak.
The recent election has revealed to many of us that America is not the country we thought it was. As the results rolled in on election night, I sat in shock, along with many others, as it became increasingly clear that Donald Trump would become our 45th president. While I still cannot quite believe that a man who has openly said such bigoted and misogynistic statements will be sitting in the oval office, I do not believe in condemning others for the outcome of this election.
As Thomas J. Friedman in The New York Times stated so eloquently, “Personally, I will not wish [the Republican Party and Donald Trump] ill. Too much is at stake for my country and my children. Unlike the Republican Party for the last eight years, I am not going to try to make my president fail. If he fails, we all fail. So yes, I will hope that a better man emerges than we saw in this campaign.”
In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton made note that “The divisions [in America] laid bare by this election run deep.” Certainly, this historical election has wrought more than uncertainty and unease for many, and there have been horrifying and deeply troubling reactions to Trump’s presidency and these cannot be ignored.
The highest glass ceiling has yet to be broken, but in the midst of this setback, women continue to shatter the status quo across the country. It is up to us to prevent our country from taking steps back from where we have come. There are immense challenges ahead of us, but I believe that we have the capacity to come together and make change.
So here’s my take on networking: employ the shine theory in your life. The amplification strategy should not just happen for women, but it should happen across the board. Regardless of gender, the principle of shine theory stands true for any opportunity to connect with someone you admire and respect. Take the chance of be-friending or reaching out to someone that you identify with, even if that person seems intimidatingly smart and powerful to you.
Networking to me means being a supportive and encouraging person, regardless of circumstance, without a hidden agenda, and despite over-arching career goals. It’s about being a good colleague and a better friend. It’s about making connections with people that you admire and respect. Ultimately, it’s about empathy and the desire to better understand one another.
It’s speaking up for one another to together receive the respect you so justly deserve. If you think about it, you’re “networking” everyday – from the email that you send to your co-worker offering your congratulations on a completed project, to dropping a quick get-well note in your neighbor’s mail-box after hearing that she hasn’t been feeling well.
And one day, I hope in the very near future, women won’t need to be “amplified” to be heard. Instead, their voices will be sought out and highly respected, in the White House and beyond.
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