Many of Baton Rouge’s most successful businesswomen have one thing in common: a pack of other successful women behind them.
In order to land the best positions, local female professionals acknowledge a need to maintain both wide networks of business contacts and close-knit inner circles of professional female confidantes, a challenge known as “dual networking” most women don’t even realize they’re doing.
Both men and women benefit from casting a wide net of business connections. But recent research from the Harvard Business Review indicates that women who also cultivate an informative circle of well-connected female peers are more likely to secure executive positions with greater authority and higher pay. Within these inner circles, women can swap notes about companies’ attitudes toward women and other private information to ultimately help strengthen their job search, interviewing and negotiation strategies.
“It’s been necessary for me, working in a male-dominated field,” says Norisha Kirts Glover, owner of NRK Construction and incoming president of the Junior League of Baton Rouge. “It’s just making sure that when an opportunity presents itself, you connect women you know with them. They’ll do the same for you.”
The more professionally diverse the group of women, the better. Linda Perez Clark, Kean Miller’s first female managing partner, often turns to her sister, who is in human relations, or a college friend who’s in the insurance business in Houston. That’s not to say she doesn’t also approach men for advice; what’s more important, says Clark, is a solid foundation of trust amongst your inner network, which she usually develops over an informal breakfast.
“There’s some hesitation to solicit input because you’re making yourself vulnerable,” Clark says. “But trust-building is a give-and-take. It’s about making the time to spend together, face-to-face, to create a relationship.”
Other women, wanting to bolster their career prospects or consult with a mentor, find these crucial groups through local organizations like the Women’s Prosperity Network.
“We’re as real as can be,” says Ellen McDowell, who leads the organization’s Baton Rouge chapter. “They say women can be catty and push each other down, but you’ve got to find that group that can lift you up, which I find most organizations [in Baton Rouge] do.”
As an entrepreneur, McDowell says the roughly 30-member network has been instrumental in helping her find clients for her social media marketing business, Your Social Butterfly. Members who have lost jobs have also gone through the group to get connected to new work opportunities.
The makeup of all-women’s organizations like Junior League and local sorority alumnae chapters—including the Delta Gamma alumnae chapter where she belongs—look vastly different now from how they looked decades ago, says Melissa Thompson, director of community relations and communications for Baton Rouge General Foundation. Today, they’re comprised of mostly working women who are well-respected in their fields.
It’s for the better, she says. When a company is looking to hire someone in a close-knit community like Baton Rouge, they don’t tend to look far outside their inner networks, which can be accessed through these and similar organizations.
Nationally, women are creating “girls’ clubs” in an effort to crack the underlying “good ol’ boys” network that many female professionals say still exists in Baton Rouge, evidenced by men holding most board seats—especially those that are paid, among other statistics.
“We’re often not invited to those spaces,” Thompson says, “so we need to make our own.”