For much of her career, Marilyn Nagel has worked in both the diversity and learning & development fields. Formerly Chief Diversity Officer for Cisco Systems, Inc., she currently serves as co-founder and Chief Mission Officer for NQuotient, which helps women in business create and leverage networks to assist their career growth and development.
JATHAN JANOVE: You’re passionate about helping women improve their networking skills. What’s the origin of your passion?
MARILYN NAGEL: A personal experience. Before I joined Cisco, I was a mid-level executive. My boss announced his pending retirement and my designation as his successor. He left earlier than expected, however, and I asked HR if I needed to apply for the position. The HR Director said, “No. You’re not going to get the job.”
I was shocked. I’d won awards and consistently received rave reviews. My succession had been public knowledge. But I was told, “Although they praised your work, the senior executive team said you’re aloof, that you’ve never taken the time to get to know them, and that they don’t see you as a peer.”
I left the company shortly thereafter and later reflected on the experience. When interacting with senior executives, I kept communication short and to the point, trying to be as efficient with their time as possible. During off-site gatherings or retreats, I tended to avoid the social activities, preferring to regenerate with alone-time. I’m not a social extravert, and having drinks with predominantly male executives after a long day of meetings didn’t appeal to me.
Unbeknownst to me, they considered this behavior as aloofness and a lack of interest in them. As a result, they objected to my joining them as a colleague.
JJ: What lessons did you learn?
MN: Sharing experiences like mine with other women in business has produced several insights on the connection between networking and the glass ceiling.
First, effective networking, including developing sponsors, is critical to career advancement. The higher up you go, the less it’s about the quality of your work and the more it’s about who you know.
Second, men and women network differently. Men don’t make a distinction between social and business networks. They’re as apt to develop business on the golf course as they are at work. By contrast, women tend to keep the two networks separate.
Third, in order to network effectively, women shouldn’t have to pay the price of (a) faking extraversion; (b) spending time in uncomfortable social settings (“hanging out with the boys at the bar”); or (c) adding yet another time commitment to an already challenged work-life schedule.
JJ: What steps should women take?
- Build your networking into your existing workweek. A lot can happen over a cup of coffee as opposed to dinner or a time consuming social event outside of work. Over time, a half hour a week of focused networking will produce significant results.
- Identify people who can be helpful to your advancement. When you meet with them, share a goal and say “I’d appreciate your ideas or suggestions,” including, “Who might help me achieve this goal?”
- Send follow-up notes and thank them for their input. Also, as you move forward, share your progress with them.
- Ask people in your network, “What can I do for you?” If you come across something that might be valuable or of interest, alert them. If it’s a point of discussion that occurred in a meeting you attended, share your notes or give them a summary. If it’s an article, forward it to them. I developed a long-term valuable relationship with a high-powered executive after I learned of a non-profit organization he supported, and offered to help support it.
- Instead of going to events where business cards get exchanged, look for ways to introduce people to others. You can then step out of the conversation and let them continue. Although I consider myself socially shy, I’m known as an “uber-connector.” That’s mainly because I make lots of introductions for others.
JJ: What does NQuotient do?
MN: Using cloud-based technology, it helps women develop and leverage their networks efficiently and effectively. It functions in three ways:
(1) It acts like a CRM (Customer Relationship) system, only it focuses specifically on networks, syncing data, creating circles of related contacts and identifying potential sponsors or benefactors.
(2) It acts like a Fitbit, providing daily reminders and encouragement to take action steps. It keeps things top of mind so you don’t waste time thinking about what you should do next.
(3) It acts like programs such as Luminosity that keep score and help you improve. Unlike IQ, which is fairly fixed, your “NQ” (Networking Intelligence) can continually increase. In addition to allowing you to rate yourself on absolute and relative scales, the program provides tips, tools and other source material to improve your score.
JJ: What advice do you have for male executives?
MN: Aside from stepping up your own networking game, don’t assume that high performing but socially reserved women are aloof and therefore don’t belong in senior. If you hold a leadership position, help women broaden and deepen their networks. Be more than just a mentor focused on the present. Be a sponsor or benefactor focused on their future. It’s like being a patron of the arts; only instead of contributing your money, contribute your reputation, insights and connections for their advancement.
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