Buck the barriers facing women in business with the right network, strategies, and mindset shifts for your best year yet.

Created in partnership with our friends at Indy Chamber.

The old boy’s club approach to networking need not apply, as beautiful as a tufted leather Chesterfield in an exclusive club may be. A modern, community-minded approach to building a network among entrepreneurs and business leaders is what it takes to succeed today, no matter your industry. And there are more opportunities than ever for women to connect, collaborate, learn and grow than ever before. However, it’s not only about the “where,” it’s also about the “how” when you get there.

To get ahead, you’ve got to be willing to do things a little differently, and it’s no surprise that networking requires some creativity and initiative. However, those that stretch the limits of their comfort zone to grow, expand and thrive are the ones who will see the greatest results. 

Shake up the how and when you network

The natural creation of a network takes time, effort and consistency. All too often, the task of networking falls by the wayside when it’s put up against women’s daily obligations across work, family and other pursuits. However, women that invest the time in curating their networks can see three times the results than their peers without them. Networking isn’t just a “nice to have.” Networking is essential for women in every field, every age and every phase of their careers. 

Two women co-working
Photo Courtesy of Create.Connect.Collab.

It’s that friction against women’s opportunities to network that inspired Indianapolis’ Starla Kay Mathis and Lateva Woolfork to co-found Create. Connect. Collab. Their membership community serves as a collective for women to leverage their shared network and expertise as they grow their businesses. By pre-building a network of engaged professionals at various levels and phases of their careers, members can get a head start on building their network. 

Kick off your alternate networking game by seeking out pre-organized groups like Create. Collect. Collab. Attend mid-day meetups of breakfasts, taking advantage of work hours where your other obligations are already covered. For example, if your children are in school or with a caregiver, daytime networking helps cover your bases while you pursue greater achievement professionally.

Use after-hours events designed to capitalize on the time allotted to them. Workshop formats provide a sharply scheduled event with a clear focus, curated speakers and an overarching goal for attendees. 

The Indy Chamber’s Central Indiana Women’s Business Center, or CIWBC, hosts events for women entrepreneurs during breakfast events, retreats and collaborative workshops designed to fit into any schedule and format preference of its attendees. As a cooperative program in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, under the umbrella of the Business Ownership Initiative of Indiana (BOI) and a program of the Indy Chamber, the CIWBC is designed to promote the creation and growth of businesses by women entrepreneurs by empowering them towards successful entrepreneurship and economic self-sufficiency.

Level-up your circle

Humans are naturally drawn to those who are similar. And women especially tend to gravitate to those whose contributions to social interactions are less threatening and offer instant rapport over career advancement. This preference for comfort over collaboration can lead to a vast network of peers and junior-level connections and a seriously lacking roster of upper-tier contacts. 

Four women talking at a table

While passing on wisdom is admirable and even essential in a mentor-mentee model, it can lead to a situation of giving and never receiving mentorship, advocacy and advancement. Long-term, careers can be stunted and opportunities can be missed without the advantage of sponsorships running in the background. 

According to a shared study between the University of Notre Dame, Northwestern University and the Kellogg School of Management, researchers found a correlation between high-achieving women and the existence of a strong inner circle of two to three other women. 

One’s inner circle can convey insight that’s nonexistent in even the most esteemed business school or leadership intensive. Lived experiences, deep-rooted connections and unbiased insight can’t be bought, but they can be earned amongst those committed to providing support to others. 

To level up your network, reach out to top staffers at your workplace. Show initiative by sitting near them at an upcoming meeting and striking up a conversation based on a key discussion point.  Then, make the ask for a 30-minute coffee conversation for a block of time you’ve already confirmed they have available. The snippet of time you’ve requested shows respect and signals your keen awareness of their in-demand time. Prepare notes beforehand for what you hope to discuss and, of course, what you want to ask for.

Get comfortable making the ask

Networking can feel disingenuous at best and, according to many women, dirty, especially if your tendencies skew reserved versus outgoing. Entering a conversation with a pre-meditated goal doesn’t often sit well with women, even among the most ambitious set. However, networking doesn’t have to feel like you’re overstepping or establishing a quid-pro-quo standard before you can even recount a full name and job title. Remember, others attending networking events or conferences know the rules of engagement, too. Use your time together to connect and elevate your careers on a level playing field of respect, professionalism and with a shared interest in adding value to the relationship.

Four women chatting over dinner table

Elevate your conversation skills beyond what you’ve built on your own or honed in the workplace. Networking takes practice, a willingness to put yourself out there and learning from flubs along the way. 

First to go-the small talk. Sure, it’s easy to get sucked into the in-person bio review, but before you know it, you’re waxing poetic about your dog, kids or both. Research event attendees ahead of time and trim up your personal intro to ensure you maximize your and their time. 

Next, consider what you hope to gain from attending your networking event. If you’re growing your business, think about the potential clients you’re pursuing. Trim down the work type you want to do, packaging this information into its own version of an elevator pitch. You may not meet them at the event, but chances are you’ll meet folks who have leads to the potential client list you want. Sort out how best to describe your offer and how to close out a connection. Bring takeaway cards, write down notes and make a verbal commitment to follow up. 

Finally, follow through with what you said you’d do. Aim to follow up within three days with the individuals you met and the new connections you’ve made. Ideally, you can manage a one-two punch and reach out to your client lead and then send a thank you for the connection to your new contact. Let them know that you’ve reached out and, if it makes sense with your previous interaction, request their secondary endorsement and follow up with your potential client. This layered thank you and ask can reiterate your expertise, show your gratitude and get you closer to your goals.

Banish so-called “imposter syndrome”

Even the most competent and confident individual can spiral into self-doubt, and it’s even easier to feel like an imposter when you’re striking out on something new. 

Woman laughing on computer with two other women

Do we want to get into the gender wage gap? All data aside, which suggests it’d be over half of a century for women to catch up to their male peers, the guys often take the cake on job qualification confidence. And while we’re all hoping that the most qualified and capable candidate gets the gig, studies confirm that exceptionally capable women aren’t applying to many open roles.  

In LinkedIn’s Gender Insights Report, researchers found that women shy away from applying to roles when they don’t meet 100% of the criteria. This self-screen may seem like a respectable practice, showing recruiters that you respect their time while reducing wasting your own, not to mention the mental anguish that often comes free of charge when applying to an open role. 

However, data shows that men click “apply now” once they cross the 60% threshold of qualifications. This difference in perceived qualifications means that male applicants can quickly outpace their female peers and potentially further create gender gaps in the workplace. And while it’s no one woman’s, or man’s for that matter, responsibility to single-handedly change the workplace gender makeup, it does mean that women who pre-screen take themselves out of the game before it’s even begun. 

Instead, know your strengths and own them. Practice positive self-talk, no matter how silly or awkward it seems. Craft a mantra that you can believe, remember and repeat. Keep it simple and relatively evergreen, which can help reinforce it in your daily practice.

Next, position yourself in front of a mirror first thing in the morning. Make eye contact with yourself and recite your new mantra aloud at least three times. Smile while doing it, and even acknowledge the feelings the act evokes. Work through any initial awkwardness with the knowledge that positive self-talk has been shown to reduce stress and boost your mood, health and even overall life satisfaction. 

Integrate your mantra into snippets of your day, like your commute, during an elevator ride or even mindless tasks. The more you bolster your confidence, the better you’ll feel as you build your network and your business. Plus, as you earn new successes, the positive self-image you’ve built will help reinforce your expertise for the long haul.

Build Your Community Now

There’s no time like the present to build your support community and strengthen your newfound networking skills. Join Indy Maven and the Indy Chamber’s Central Indiana Women’s Business Center on Thursday, June 29, 2023, for COMMUNITY-MINDED: SHOWING UP AND SHOWING OUT, the next segment of our workshop series curated for individuals pursuing their business, career and entrepreneurial goals in the Indy region.  

Attendance is free, and registration is available here. During the 2.5 hours of the event, attendees will participate in a series of workshops covering how to build ambassadors for your brand, how to nurture your network and how you can show up as your best self in business and life. The event schedule allows for ample time to connect and network with panelists and attendees while enjoying the beautiful Maven Space, which is also available to tour for those interested in membership. BONUS: one lucky attendee will win a three-month Maven Space membership!


Where: Maven Space, 433 N. Capitol Ave., Ste. 100, Indianapolis, IN 46204

When: June 29, 2023, from 5:30-8 p.m. 

Featuring: Stephanie James- CIWBC, Lateva Woolfork and Starla Mathis- Create. Connect. Collab., Althea Cooper- Old National Bank, Melanie Raney- AES Indiana, and

Bette Smith- Destra Consulting Group

Natalie Derrickson is a writer and communications strategist, living and working in Indy. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram.

All of our content—including this article—is completely free. However, we’d love if you would please consider supporting our journalism with an Indy Maven membership.

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