We're slowly making headway in bridging the gender gap in venture capital. To be sure, there's still a long way to go. But, over the last two years, we've made a lot of progress. In 2018, female-founded startups generated $46 billion, which represented a more than two-fold increase over 2017 levels and a more than 15-fold increase over the past decade.
One of the most powerful forces propelling women to bridge the gender cap is networking. By building powerful networks, women are able to thrive in venture capital by opening doors to new portfolio companies and partners, while also offering this network as a strategic value proposition to portfolio companies.
Recent research by Babson College’s Rob Cross has revealed four critical networking practices that set high-performing women apart from their less successful counterparts. By leveraging these best practices, you can become an all-star networker.
1. Boundary Spanning
Research by Stanford Professor and sociologist Mark Granovetter has revealed that there is a strength associated with weak ties--those people who we don’t interact with on a daily basis. Granovetter contends that these ties are important for uniting different groups within a network. They are bridges.
Like Grannovetter, Cross found that boundary spanning is a key prerequisite to networking success. I particular, he identified five types of boundary spanning ties that propel women to develop strong networks.
- Emergence/Creativity Ties. These are bridges spanning two silos that spur cross-fertilization of ideas.
- Depth/Best Practice Ties. These are connections between people with similar expertise (for example, across function or geography) that promote depth or efficiency of work.
- Professional Growth Ties. These are relationships with informal mentors.
- Vertical Ties. These are relationships with formal or informal sponsors.
- Sensemaking/Landscape Ties. These are bridges between different people that give rise to an accurate picture of the stakeholder network vis a vis critical tasks.
Women are often subject to collaborative overload. That is, they are more likely to respond to be sought out for information than they are to seek information. Cross found that most successful women networkers are less likely to engage in excessive collaboration as a result of a felt need to be recognized. They’re also more likely to avoid the FOMO trap, wherein they take on more work as a result of a fear of missing out. When it comes to networking, it’s important to make sure that you’re not biting off more than you can chew.
Cross also found that women exhibited greater stickiness in their relationships over time. Specifically, he found that women are more apt to maintain relationships with co-workers from previous positions and jobs as compared to their male counterparts. Successful women leverage these strong external connections as boundary-spanning opportunities.
Successful networkers are energizers. When people feel engaged and invigorated by a strong sense of purpose they're more likely to propose suggestions and offer resources that give rise to innovation. Successful networkers focus on imbuing their environment with energy. An important part of being an energizer involves sharing half-baked ideas. The most successful networkers engage their network early when ideas are only partially developed. Doing so enables them to gain early buy-in and excitement and solicit others to join in their excitement.
Cross found that being an energizer is four times more predictive of performance than is anything else that he has studied as part of his research!
Relationship intelligence platforms can go a long way in helping venture capitalists boost the power of their networks. Using Affinity, venture capitalists can assure that they are keeping tabs on communications with current and prospective portfolio companies and other companies. Affinity will automatically alert venture capitalists when relationships are at risk so that investors can assure that they are proactively maintaining and building strong relationships.