Why hanging around women can be a waste of time

Posted on: Jan 11, 2017

This past year, I was invited to a conference hosted by Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 (EBW), an organization that’s seeking to grow and support female entrepreneurs. The conference includes women business owners who run multi-million dollar companies, women who’ve just made their first million, and women who have a promising business idea they want to grow.

EBW brings all these women together to create opportunities for mentorship as the less-experienced businesswomen learn from the been-there-done-that lessons of their fellow female entrepreneurs. While this all sounded great, I have to be honest: I’ve been to women-in-business conferences before. And while I always find them informational, there’s often a cloud of competition that surrounds the event. Of course we want other women to succeed—but not too much.

So it wasn’t without skepticism that I arrived at my table for the EBW conference events. I took a seat, eyeing the other women, curious about what they did and where they were from. Having attended and facilitated hundreds of conferences, I knew that this was the part where the organizers would institute an ice breaker. But instead of having us go around and say what we do and what our favorite ice cream flavor is, we were asked to arrive at the conference with an “ask” and be prepared to “give” so as we went around, we each had to tell the table a problem or need we were facing in our business. And instead of politely nodding and moving on, the rest of the women at the table had to provide a solution to whatever issue the speaker was up against.

The benefits were numerous.

For one thing, every woman took off her mask of success and with vulnerability shared her problem and then received several solutions—whether the business card of a great graphic designer who could improve her website or a sales strategy another woman at the table had used. For another, every woman had multiple opportunities to help other women succeed.

To this day, I am more connected with that group of generous, authentic women from EBW than I am with any I’ve met at any of the other female entrepreneur conferences I’ve attended. The bond from that day runs far deeper than any forced networking interactions could offer because they celebrate each other’s victories and support each other during struggles. By flipping the focus from what we wanted to how we could meet the needs of other women, we actually put women supporting women into practice in a very real way.

Starting from a place of “What can I give?” takes the competition and jealousy right out of the equation. And when we stop looking at one another as competition, we can start looking at each other as one team, all of us focused on seeing more women running companies, breaking glass ceilings, and pioneering in ways the generation of women before us could only have dreamed of.

If you’re also looking for a supportive tribe of creative entrepreneurial women, check out EBW.