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It all started at a women’s conference in California. Pamela Ryckman was curious as she met a female senior executive, who introduced her to another, then another, each one speaking of working hard and loving it. They would gather in groups and support each other. As she reflected on her own life, it had always been a woman who had gotten her through the door.

She ended up collecting many stories of the collaboration of senior successful women with each other and younger successful women in: Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business.

Tangled up in a business conversation

Ryckman states. “But it’s also about what happens when women leave the table, when the talking stops and the action starts. It’s about how they mine their collective intelligence to realize their dreams or champion causes…It’s about women banding together to achieve their destinies and change the world.”

The women gather in each others’ homes, at resorts in other countries, offices, places where they can talk, share about their lives, and support each other in their personal and professional lives. Talk is of clothes, shoes (hence the title), families, successes, failures, asking and giving information, introductions, help.

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A woman I admire deeply once told me that women who were too successful were excluded by their peers and punished. This did not fit my experience as a computer programmer in IBM or later as a career coach there. Stiletto Network gave an explanation that made sense to me. In the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s there were token women in leadership roles. If you were very ambitious, it was you or another women for the ‘token’ slot.

Today there are many powerful women in the C-Suite, middle management, extremely successful entrepreneurs, and leaders of incredible non-profits, and their collaboration is changing the face of business and the world. Men are finding these groups valuable as well, for they are gaining introductions and clients from those they know in the groups.

Research is finding that all-female groups, led by inspiring, influential women, are in the vanguard of an increasingly dominant force in American business. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, 8 million U.S. businesses are majority-owned by women, and these firms have an economic impact of $ 3 trillion annually. They’ve created and maintained 23 million jobs, or 16 percent of total jobs in the United States. The number of women-owned businesses is growing twice as fast as the number of total businesses.

The book is full of stories of different Stiletto Networks all across the US and increasingly around the globe.

One is about the revamping of the image of the Girls Scouts in honor of its 100th anniversary. The makeover was spearheaded by Davia Temin, first vice chair and chair of fund development, number two in an organization of 3.2 million volunteers and 49 million living alumnae. As a child in Cleveland, she had sold more cookies than anyone in her state (and later found a correlation between lifelong accomplishment and volume of cookies sold – a Girl Scout Cookie Indicator of Success).

For three years, Temin met weekly with the Girl Scouts board to set an audacious goal that would inspire their nonprofit to evolve. They knew that $1 billion would command attention. Temin says. “At the end of it, when someone asks, ‘How much is a girl worth?’ you can say it starts at $1 billion and goes up from there.”

Another story — In 2004 Bonnie McElveen-Hunter became the first woman in history to chair the American Red Cross. She believed the Red Cross should be prepared to mobilize immediately when crises occurred instead of soliciting in the wake of natural disasters. She involved the Board in raising funds. She and Bonnie Sabelhaus had raised close to $1 billion through the Baltimore United Way Women’s Leadership Initiative over a decade. Using those skills, they raised $44 million from women in Tiffany Circles, named for Northern and Southern women who united after the Civil War to commission the Tiffany stained-glass windows at Red Cross headquarters.

Rykman suggests starting your own Stiletto Network and includes Six Startup Tips on her website
1  –  Start now:  You don’t need to be famous or well established. Starting early in your career allows you to steer each other to promotions, become powerful — together
2  –  Think diversity:  The most effective groups draw women with diverse skills from a variety of industries
3  –  Filter for relevance and shared experience:  Diverse women need to have some shared traits and experience, such as age or level of expertise
4  –  Believe in the magic:  Groups need only to bring together women of shared values and ethics, who are open to aiding others
5 –  Strike a balance between personal and professional:  Address the career-building needs of members, yet still retain the fun
6 –  Have courage, give courage: Members help each other script difficult conversations, encourage each other to take risks, and shouldn’t be afraid to disagree

Enjoy reading these stories of the collaboration of many powerful, charismatic, and generous women and consider how your own power might be magnified by developing or finding a Stiletto Network.

QUESTION:  Where in your life are there women you could collaborate with to advance your career and theirs or help each other in a joint endeavor?

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