Fostering and Growing Your Professional Girl Gang
By Kelly Miller
Ask not what your girl gang can do for you, but what you can do for your girl gang
My favorite part of being a woman in dynamic industries (I’m lucky enough to straddle communications and technology), is the people I get to meet and learn from. I source female (and female-identifying) power from all over. My community Slack crushes become happy hour dates and a woman in a Facebook skincare group has advised me on designing a chatbot. The more I open myself up to different circles (tech policy, underrepresented groups in coding, etc.), the more I learn about interesting people doing compelling things.
For the past six months, I’ve joined more organizations, read more minority voices, and collaborated professionally with people outside of my industry. After wrapping up a recent panel I organized on blogging for coders, I was drinking wine and laughing with some women - experts in their field, community organizers, and passionate career builders. These were colleagues-turned-friends and I realized I’m part of a beautiful community - a girl gang, by another name.
Fostering this group was easy and authentic thanks to a few tools. Here’s my advice if you want to grow your support system, up your friend game within and outside of your field, and source inspiration from innovative women (and non-women) in your community.
“How Can I Help You?”
When I was recently having coffee with Hatch Apps co-founder Amelia Friedman, as we were wrapping up she asked me, “How can I help you?”
I was taken aback for a moment. I was grateful she was being so generous with HER time and was struck by her kind and continual willingness to help. I couldn’t think of an answer at the time - I don’t think I really had one - but it stuck with me as a genuine way for her end our conversation by solidifying our ongoing and authentic relationship (rather than making the meeting seem like a one-and-done business transaction).
Not only did this give me the warm fuzzies as the receiver of such a question, putting this practice into action has helped me realize where my powers lie. I’ve been surprised when I’ve since ended meetings with “How can I help you?” Even though I knew I could be helpful for general communications needs - crafting messaging, connecting to journalists, and social media tips, I didn’t realize that some people saw my understanding of FCC policy or my knowledge of DC technical talent as highly valuable. Asking the “How can I help you” question has made me realize the ways I can help the people who help me -- some of which I would have never known to offer in the first place.
A quick caveat: make sure the question comes about naturally. There is a separate conversation about staying genuine and authentic when networking that merits a separate blog post. My guess is that if you ask this question with an agenda (only hoping they’ll regurgitate and you can pounce with your ask), it will be obvious. And that’s just gross.
Learning by Observation
I’ve realized that there is a lot to learn by simply observing the powerful people around me. Oftentimes, I don’t even ask for specifics or a formal meeting with these women because I’m already learning so much just by spending time with them, following their social accounts, and putting on my sociological thinking cap to dissect what they’re doing that makes them successful.
While my friend and PR/entrepreneurial mentor Kelsey Duke has taught me how to spruce up press releases and her secrets to managing her own business, she has also given me advice on how to dress to impress and live life to the fullest. However, this advice didn’t come with a rulebook and tip sheet; in fact, she never actually told me that I needed to present a sharp image to be taken more seriously. But every time I saw Kelsey, she looked like a million bucks. I saw how smart, fashion-forward choices were reinforcing her authority and bright, dynamic personality. People in a room gravitate towards her.
Another gem I’ve picked up from learning by observation: smarter emailing. We all receive approximately one billion emails every day. Rather than simply absorbing and responding, I began looking for patterns in the ways that my most respected colleagues communicated on this medium. A few tips I picked up (though I’m sure it varies by industry/relationship): add bullet points for easy reading, limit explanation points, don’t thank someone if they didn’t do anything for you & never be vague about scheduling - add as much information about time and location as soon as you introduce the notion of meeting.
Amplify, amplify, amplify
A wise social media guru once told me: you can tweet as many times a day as you want. So why be stingy with the “RT” button? It’s free!
I think every creative should spend 15 minutes a day dedicated to propping up the work of others. First of all, this is a great way to absorb more content related to your industry. It can help you stay ahead of trends, absorb the way individuals hone in on a voice, keep a finger on the pulse of upcoming events, and stay ahead on who knows who. Further, your endorsements can go a long way. I can relate to the post-writing binge burnout. When someone has spent so much energy creating quality content, they will appreciate help promoting.
Veni Kunche of Code with Veni has quite a following and remains committed to showcasing the work of others; especially women who are starting to learn how to code. Because she’s sharing content that’s all in the same family - coding tips, trends for devs, language updates, etc. - her feed remains relevant to her core following.
Engaging on social also helps you become a familiar face for the women you may not yet know personally. On a recent episode of Being Boss, Kathleen Shannon explains how she’s always more receptive to emails when they’ve come from people she recognizes from commenting on her social media.
Shine on, Supportive Girl Gang!
The best way to cultivate a professional girl gang is to give and be present. When you show up to support your peers and contribute your time and skills to your community, you’ll be connected to like-minded and passionate people. By showing genuine interest in bettering the tech ecosystem around you, you’ll become a part of that community and begin to benefit from the other gang members like you. Give, collaborate, share, and hold yourself accountable - if you’re applying yourself in a genuine way, the people around you will attract the same energy.
Kelly Miller is a Director at Banner Public Affairs, where she helps clients – from bootstrapped startups to Fortune 500 companies – communicate their value with compelling, data-rich storytelling. Her ebook Get Attention: Brand Building for Startups empowers founders to build a memorable, effective brand – but quickly and on the cheap.
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