The greatest challenge facing women who want to progress nowadays is to realize the power of connections and use them in the most efficient manner possible. In recent years several organizations have emerged to help women in various fields, such as networking; including Ken, NETA – Women in Management, and NIV, an organization for women entrepreneurs, active mostly in and around Modi’in.
Yifat Leshem-Argaman, a jeweler and designer, and the co-director of NIV together with Orit Peretz, recalls that she joined one of NIV’s groups five years ago, after establishing her jewelry business in 2000. She had reached a dead end and the group helped her find a way out.
“Thanks to the NIV meetings, I realized I must make some changes. The shop was renovated, I decided to focus on crafting, I stopped holding lessons in the studio, and began creating a members’ club that now includes 1,500 people,” she says. NIV’s contribution in networking had a far-reaching effect, since Leshem-Argaman was relatively new in the city, and didn’t know the people who would end up being her core of customers.
The women’s readiness to help each other proved its worth, as they focused on each other. “The most trustworthy system of marketing is word-of-mouth,” says Leshem-Argaman. “I want as many people as possible to know me and recommend my work – to attain this goal, I needed to widen my personal contacts. Today I can say that I’m rather well-networked.”
Ada Reshef, 57, a NIV member for the past year, claims that networking is an acquired ability. Reshef, a coach and group moderator, says that NIV helped her overcome her stage fright. “Every week you have to talk for 60 seconds about your business,” she says. “I did it again and again, until I felt more secure. It was hard for me to face audiences as a bashful person, but whoever owns a business has to deal with marketing as well and overcome this barrier.”
Reshef adds that she learned that she must expand her networks, and that’s why she joined NIV. “At first I only used the connections I had through friends, but these were limited, and I realized I had to expand my list of contacts. I also understood that good networking is focused networking – you must know what you want to achieve through the connections and discuss it.”
Reshef agrees that there are differences between contacts established by men – usually more goal-oriented – and contacts created by women, but she believes that all extreme paths lead to failure. “Men who will only discuss business without taking any interest in the human being opposite them might lose a client, and women who only discuss their husband and children, without reaching the point, will also miss out. The aim is to find the fine balance,” she says.
Sharon Mandeleil, 43, owns a web marketing company she founded seven years ago and has been an NIV member for the past six years. She finds it hard to identify with the experts’ views on how women use networking. She believes her networks are not homogenous since they include a male majority, and she feels comfortable about discussing her needs and wishes with her network. After 17 years of marketing experience, including six years at telecommunications company Partner, Mandeleil recognizes the importance of contacts as an instrument in developing careers and businesses.
“Networking is a very important aspect of success. Since I went independent, I’ve done a lot of networking, I’m acquainted with many people in the cellular phone industry, where I came from, and I regularly meet key people. My best clients come to me through personal recommendations from old friends and acquaintances. I have no problem in stating what I want from each of them, and of course I believe in ‘whoever gives, gets.’ I also take time to maintain the personal ties I’ve accumulated over the years. I don’t feel any inferiority concerning men; I feel completely equal,” she says.
Still, Mandeleil is aware that not all women behave as she does. “There are some women who have a problem discussing money or declaring ‘I’m good’ or ‘I want,’ and at the NIV groups we focus on women’s weak points,” she explains. “NIV is a framework that bestows confidence and power. There are groups for women who just opened their businesses, for women who have been independent for several years and whose business is going steady, and a group of women with bigger businesses with employees who are learning and working together on how to spread their networking wings beyond NIV.”
When told that research shows that women create social ties with people in their network but then find it hard to discuss business with them, Mandeleil replies: “I try to differentiate between friends and people who are connected to my business, and if we’re business-related – we’ll discuss whatever needs discussing. It’s important that women be aware that if they don’t treat their business like a work-in-progress – needing a business plan and customer recruiting – it just won’t move ahead.