As Women’s History Month kicks off, we profile a women’s movement lurking beneath the scenes across several industries -- including the startup world.
We all know of Women 2.0, the S.H.E. Summit and other professional women’s conferences that attract ambitious females from across the country to network, learn about an industry and advance their careers at a single event. (And if you haven’t attended one, go register, stat.)
But a different trend is propelling women toward success: stiletto networks.
Executive and entrepreneurial women are meeting regularly in groups of no more than 10 to 12 for dinner at chic restaurants, poker nights in their redecorated high-rises, or their company’s boardrooms during business afterhours. They meet to talk economic trends, business deals, political lobbying, and the joys and woes of working motherhood. Personal matters are not off limits but professional topics take precedence.
As a result, these underground power circles are collectively charting billions of dollars in transactions, according to Pamela Ryckman, author of Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles that are Changing the Face of Business (Amazon 2013). Many women gained board seat promotions and VC funding through these tight-knit, circles of trust.
“Women are opening their Rolodex and wallets on each other’s behalf,” Ryckman says. “They’re forming strategic alliances and partnerships with women who are their friends and business partners.”
Modern Businesswomen’s History 101: Cross-Industry Coalitions
Ryckman says that if we rewind 20 to 30 years ago, there was room for only one token woman executive in each company. “Women couldn’t share information with each other because they feared that one colleague could knock them off that perch,” she says. “So peer groups had to be cross-industry. Women were meeting not to get ahead, but to make friends with other professional women who weren’t direct competitors.”
Today, the groups remain intentionally small, but in aggregate they number in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of women in the U.S. From C-suite execs, to young entrepreneurs, to mothers launching businesses, women of all age groups are forming these intimate networks. Also, as individual members attend other larger meetings across the country, these circles are interlocking and becoming increasingly powerful, according to Ryckman.
Girls Raising recently hosted a pitch contest at the Rox Gallery in the Lower Eastside of NYC. Panel judge Deborah Jackson, CEO of Plum Alley and 85 Broads member, mentioned she adored Ryckman’s book, but added that it is almost out of date because so many circles have formed rapidly since the book’s May 2013 publish date.
It turns out Pauline Brown, Chairwoman of LVMH North America, and former private equity executive at the Carlyle Group, had recently launched a New York City dinner group. Inside the Beltway, Maryland-Based "Chicks in Charge" created the most successful fundraising pilot in the history of the Red Cross. Networks are sprouting deeper South, where women have launched "Sparkle" in South Carolina, and "Cake & Whiskey" in Kentucky.
We asked Ryckman to list the five hottest stiletto networks at the helm of this movement.
Click below to view the slideshow and meet the women of these power circles.