The power of community hasn’t always been clear to me. To this day, my parents like to tease me about how I was held back in kindergarten because I failed the sharing portion of the “curriculum” (I’m an only child, so cut me a tiny bit of slack here!).
In high school, I started to realize the power of the pack when I started my first business with my best friend. Party Professionals served food and cleaned up after our parents’ parties and got new “clients” through their friends. When it came to making a few extra bucks, we discovered that your network alone wasn’t as powerful as our combined network.
It’s been in recent years that I’ve come to realize the real power of the combined voice of women and the importance of helping and lifting your community. It’s everything from telling women’s success stories so that girls can #SEEHER to banding together to make collective impact like so many Women’s Marches have done in the past couple of years.
Among all the women I talk to, the overall sentiment is that the energy of women helping other women is at an all-time high. We’re in a moment where women are less competitive and more willing to help each other succeed. We’re all starting to understand that lifting each other up doesn’t mean you put yourself down.
Research backs it up, too: In a recent poll by Berlin Cameron and Ellevate Networks, an overwhelming 79% of respondents believe that women are supporting women now more than ever before. In another study by Berlin Cameron and Refinery29 called "This is Women’s Work: Stepping Up Startup Culture" and which was released at CES, we also found that female-led startups are two times as likely to turn to crowdfunding as a source of investment, and that women crave even more networking and mentorship opportunities with other successful women.
On the heels of launching LLShe at this year’s CES—a media platform designed to help women-led businesses founded on the need for more exposure, support and community for such businesses—I wanted to dig into the power of community a bit more, so I talked to a handful of female founders about what community means to them, and how we can use it to uplift and support other women:
Mentors are an important part of our successes. According to the Berlin Cameron and Refinery29 study, 50% of women responded that they are more comfortable at work when they have a mentor to look up to. Everyone I spoke to felt the same way. “A community is a group of people who are active participants in your success, and having a personal board of advisors in your corner helps you to move faster, make better decisions and be more confident overall,” says Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network.
We network differently than men—and female connections are our secret weapons. A recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that high-performing women have one thing in common: they have a tight-knit circle of other women who help them with “gender-specific private information and support.” In other words, questions about work culture, hostility towards women and gender diversity. The study found that women with a tight female-dominated inner circle had a job placement level 2.5 times higher than women with a male-dominated inner circle. It’s more important than ever that we build these important relationships with other women.
Look outside the usual suspects to make connections. You may think that you should only network with people within your industry, but having a diverse group of connections can be rewarding too. “When women get in front of each other and realize that even if they’re in different fields they have the same struggles, that’s where the magic happens,” says fashion designer and co-founder of the Female Founder Collective Rebecca Minkoff. “Getting advice from someone who isn’t doing what you’re doing every day can be really helpful.”
No matter how specific your interests, you can find a community. “Women are hard-wired to gather; we’ve been doing it since the beginning of time,” says Katya Libin, co-founder of HEYMAMA, an online community for mothers in business. “Now we’re seeing all these formerly marginalized niche communities develop with shared interests that bring them together, whether you’re a mom or an accountant who loves dogs, there’s a group out there for you.”
This is just the beginning. With all these strides we’re making, an even stronger sense of community is just around the corner. “I don’t like to use the term ‘year of the woman,’ it’s really the era of the woman,” says Cate Luzio, founder of the new NYC-based collaboration hub for women Luminary. “We’re entering workforce, working longer, earning dual incomes, making our home’s top income—we’re making space to include all of us.”
The strides that we’re making as a collective, including the new coworking spaces, online communities and events cropping up daily to inspire and unite women, are a positive step, but there’s more we could be doing. Our research found that while women are supporting each other, 55% of respondents still feel there’s work to be done. This can especially be said in the corporate world, where a lack of female representation can lead to competition and a lack of camaraderie.
I can’t say I have always been as conscious about helping women as I am now that I have two boys and can see the obvious impact of gender in their schooling. In the past five years I have made building women up absolutely top of mind—from finding one night at week to just connect people who might work well together to holding events that help create open dialogues for women to building a company that is more diverse than it’s ever been. We all need to walk the walk to continue to build our networks, support one another and build each other up. Unity makes us all better and stronger, and only together we will move the needle in the fight for gender equality.
Jennifer DaSilva, President at Berlin Cameron, is a seasoned integrated marketer with nearly 20 years of experience working on Fortune 500 brands. She has recently championed a new division of Berlin Cameron, Girl Brands Do It Better, empowering female founders through creativity and connection, and has spoken at many industry events on female leadership and entrepreneurship. When not at work, Jennifer advises female run start-ups, is on the board of UN Foundation, Girl Up, and most importantly is a wife and mother of two boys. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.