Networking events are a mixed bag. We gravitate toward those we know or who have similar jobs. Or, in a group of strangers, we hug the bar or the hors d’oeuvre tray, feeling awkward about introducing ourselves to a stranger. We leave thinking the wine was fine, but otherwise a colossal waste of time.
Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network, explains why her group is not only different but successful. “We recognize corporations do not have enough women in leadership, so we are changing corporate culture from the inside out, by encouraging women to speak up and ask for change.” Ellevate thrives through its vast reach, designed to connect with women in ways that serve them best. Among these are mentoring meetups, akin to speed dating, where mentors meet with potential mentees to assess potential fit; leadership luncheons for peer communities that offer support and development; squads that use short, weekly online video sessions; and regular podcasts. The results thus far have been excellent, with companies adopting inclusive policies for paid leave and equal pay, and tying diversity and inclusion metrics to business goals and compensation.
Founded in 1997 by senior women at Goldman Sachs, the group began as 85 Broads, a play on Goldman’s lower-Manhattan address at the time. Sallie Krawchek, former president of wealth management at Bank of America, bought the group in 2013 and rebranded it to Ellevate Network (certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise), retaining its original founder, Janet Hanson, on the board. She then recruited Kristy Wallace as CEO, parlaying her impressive marketing and brand development background to propel the business forward. And Kristy has done that in spades, generating stunning membership numbers: 150,000 women around the globe regularly attend events and receive Ellevate’s daily Morning Boost, a newsletter chock full of helpful career advice.
On Friday, June 21, in New York City, Ellevate Network is hosting its Mobilize Women 2019 Summit (its annual flagship event), with 500 in-person attendees and another 10,000 participating through a livestream video platform. A few spots are still available, and more information on the Summit is available here.
What makes Ellevate Network work so well? “Unlike typical networking groups that target women at the same career stage, in the same industry, or in the same region, Ellevate connects women at different career stages, regions, and inflection points,” Kristy notes. “Women’s careers are no longer linear—we often see women transitioning to new industries. We offer a fluid community that is much more powerful, with connections and resources at every stage to help women move faster and further up the corporate ladder, or to develop the entrepreneurial skills they need to launch their own businesses.”
Ellevate Network has studied social media platforms, noting that 90% of people on them are passively participating. By contrast, Ellevate’s community is its own ecosystem, requiring constant motion and feeding. It provides multiple touchpoints in ways that are most helpful, be they fireside chats, online webinars, group meetings, etc., and with three tiers of membership to correspond to where women are in their career path.
Company support is integral to career success, but not all companies support women as they march forward. Cost is a big factor. “Although companies spend a great deal to recruit employees, they allocate few resources to retaining and engaging them once they are on board,” Kristy observes. Companies also may be stymied by lack of qualified internal professionals committed to helping women, asking already-burdened employees to take on the additional responsibility to mentor and support women’s careers, rather than opting to dedicate specific, trained staff to do the job. Some organizations attempt to recreate the wheel—starting from scratch to build a program, rather than availing themselves of available best practices, such as the ‘plug and play’ option that Ellevate developed for companies to use. “This program creates support through education, resources, materials, and customized events to bring together thought leaders across various industries and organizations to work collaboratively on ways to move forward. It’s important for employees to feel heard and supported,” Kristy says.
Women have made giant strides on the way to the C-Suite, but have not always embraced teamwork, something that may not come easily to women, particularly those who began their careers decades ago. With few spots at the top, those women clawed their way up, giving those below them little or no help or support. Although not alleviated, we see much less of the queen bee syndrome now that demographics of corporate boards and leadership teams are evolving. Ellevate Network’s approach fosters more collaboration, reshaping the career conversation as women rise through the ranks.
As technology has instilled disruption across the globe, women are finding it easier to redefine their careers and develop new skills to excel. Competition for the next rung on the ladder will never be dissipated, but it is changing. “Ellevate’s commitment to connect women at all stages of their career, offering resources and support to help them, has created an ecosystem that allows all women to succeed,” Kristy says.