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Seventh IC Women’s Summit Discusses Building and Leveraging Networks

Seventh IC Women’s Summit Discusses Building and Leveraging Networks

Hundreds of women and men of the Intelligence Community gathered in Bethesda, MD, on March 22 for the Seventh Intelligence Community Women’s Summit.

Hosted by ODNI, this year’s Summit’s theme was Networking in the 21st Century, and speakers from across the Community and respected private sector organizations shared their research, advice, and insights into how to navigating modern-day networking.

The IC Women’s Summit began in 2012 as a way to build an ongoing dialogue within the Community to address career enhancement and advancement and other challenges and opportunities experienced by women serving the IC. The Summit is typically held in March in recognition of Women’s History Month.

In the years since its inception, the Summit – which is open to men and women of the IC workforce – has become one of the most highly-attended IC events. This year’s Summit boasted a record-breaking number of participants with over 500 attendees, ranging from entry through senior level and managers and non-managers representing all 17 IC agencies.

In a day filled with guest speakers, workshops and networking breaks, participants had the opportunity to engage in a variety of topics including leadership development, career advancement, and mental health and resiliency.

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Know Your Unique Strengths 

One of the key themes throughout the IC Women’s Summit was knowing yourself and understanding the unique strengths you bring to an organization and a networking relationship.

“You have to start with you – if you are not complete, aware, whole, how in the world can you be a part of something, give to something, get through something?” asked Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon in her opening remarks at the Summit.

“So I know myself. I do. I was given a great foundation by my parents,” said PDDNI Gordon. “I was told I was supposed to be my best, every day, and to give myself to the cause. I was taught to be a great teammate… and to be able to depend on others. Because how will you get somewhere together if you can’t depend on others?”

In listing out her other self-truths, PDDNI Gordon also stressed the importance of understanding how others see you, in order to learn about and advance your strengths. She also discussed the difference between looking up to people and trying to be someone other than yourself, explaining how she tried to apply particular aspects of other respected women IC leaders to the way she acted, rather than trying to be exactly like that person.

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Rebecca Shambaugh, Chief Executive Officer of SHAMBAUGH Leadership, talked during her keynote presentation about the importance of understanding yourself and leveraging your personal brand.

“Don’t sleepwalk through your greatness,” said Shambaugh. “As you go into meetings, I invite you to be intentional in your personal brand. Be intentional in how you’re showing up to people.”

To better understand your unique strengths, Shambaugh recommended seeking out people for your network who will give you constructive and honest feedback. She also recommended leveraging those strengths to build your personal brand.

Shambaugh explained that by understanding and intentionally leveraging the way you present your strengths, women have an opportunity to exponentially increase their personal brand, or the way they are viewed and discussed within the organization. That brand, however, should be tethered to your own individual strengths.

“It’s important to know who you are. Know your true north, so as we encounter the twists and turns, get new projects thrown us, we know the true north,” said Shambaugh.

“Great leaders come in all different flavors,” said PDDNI Gordon. “But all great leaders have one thing in common – their leadership comes from a place of truth.”

Networking in the 21st Century

Dr. Inga Carboni, another keynote speaker at the Summit, discussed common myths about networking and her research-based findings and recommendations for how to build and nurture personal and professional networks.

Carboni is an award-winning professor at the College of William and Mary Mason School of Business and author of numerous journal publications. She specializes in networks and networking, diversity and inclusion, building and managing relationships, and leadership. Specifically, much of Carboni’s recent research has been on gender differences in networks and networking.

According to Carboni, research shows that women tend to have smaller networks then men usually do, a more narrow range of networks, and networks that are less likely to include powerful people. This, Carboni says, is because of the “birds of a feather tend to flock together” principle and, unfortunately, there are still less women than men in the senior executive ranks.

“This idea that we’re more comfortable and more likely to interact with people like us works against us, as women,” said Carboni.

And there’s a lot more than a new job to be gained from a good network. According to Carboni, people who have structured their networks appropriately are more likely to get promoted, make more money, get early notice of jobs and opportunities for special projects, have better health, and less chance of depression.

Carboni’s presentation sought to bust some of the common myths about networking and encouraged participants to think about networking differently.

“Don’t start off by trying to get something out of other people,” said Carboni. “You should start off by thinking about what you can give to this other person. The time to start networking is not when you want a job.”

In a professional environment, explained Carboni, people are often used to things being more transactional, one-way, or in the traditional supervisor-employee relationship. Networking, however, should be a two-way relationship.

“People don’t just want a job – they want appreciation, support, information,” said Carboni. “Find out what you can offer the person – you have brains, insight, you know a population really well, you’re really good at putting together presentations – whatever your strength.”

Carboni also busted the myth that networking is “cheating” the system or playing into office politics, explaining that good leaders are expected to forge and leverage relationships to solve problems in support of the organization, and that relationships and networks can help solve problems and overcome obstacles diplomatically.

Carboni’s suggestion – “It might help to find a role model for networking – someone who you think builds and manages relationships in a way that is ethical and beneficial to the organization.”

Embracing Differences

During the Summit, several presenters suggested that an important part of networking is seeking out and embracing those who are different.

According to Shambaugh, modern leadership models are more focused on balance and diversity of thought, and Carboni said that some private-sector best practices included intentional exposure to individuals outside of a person’s “normal” organizational interactions, such as job restructuring, rotations, shadowing, which break up the normal groupings of individuals and provide opportunity for exposure to different professional networks.

During an afternoon panel titled “Moving the Needle,” Nora Gardner from the McKinsey Group added that some corporations were moving toward more “conscious inclusion,” clustering working groups of individuals of different backgrounds, which helped to limit the occurrence of what some call “onlyness” (when an individual finds that they are the only woman, woman of color, or team member of color, for example, within a particular organization or work unit).

Gardner also talked about private-sector best practices that featured an increased focus on unconscious bias, which even included the use of a fairness observer responsible for looking for and calling attention to unconscious bias in promotion and performance discussions. 

Moving the Needle and Lifting Up Others

Just as Carboni suggested focusing on networking as a two-way relationship, Shambaugh also talked about the importance of looking at networking as an opportunity to give to others.

“It’s not just having those unique strengths, but it’s how we channel them to create something better and bigger for others,” said Shambaugh. “Knowing that what we have is all about service to others.”

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As a leader, you want to be known as someone who uses their strengths and personal brand to shine a light on and develop those around you, recommends Shambaugh.

During the “Moving the Needle” panel, Col. April D. Skou, U.S. Army, shared how she tries to lift up others in her network by setting a good example of work-life balance. She does this by talking regularly about where she’s going after work or that she’s leaving work early to support her family or her children’s sports games. “I try to set an example, raise awareness of the importance of life outside of work,” she said.

Tameeka Washington, who works for NGA, discussed efforts taken on by an informal, self-collected network of women from around the IC. The group started with an “IC Women’s Retreat” gathering, organized by Washington and a few other IC women, to discuss obstacles and best practices for IC women. The outcome of the retreat was the formation of four cohorts, which are tackling issues such as negotiating skills, women in leadership roles, superwoman/supermom syndrome, and taking career leaps.

Nazaret Berhane, an FBI employee on joint duty assignment to ODNI, talked about how the IC Women’s Mentoring Circles are also bringing women from around the Community together to support one another through mentoring opportunities. According to Berhane, the Mentoring Circles name was chosen intentionally, as the circles are meant to act as a circle of trust to connect women up, down, and across organizations and physical spaces.

“We wanted to motivate, encourage, and inspire,” said Berhane. “We also wanted to be part of the solution.”

Gardner suggested that one way to lift up other women and other colleagues was to counter micro-aggressions with micro-promotions. “This is the opposite of when someone takes your idea and repeats it and make it their own – take someone’s idea and repeat it and give her credit,” said Gardner.

“I definitely believe in one of the things that I’ve heard over and over from one of my mentors,” said Berhane. “Stay true to your authentic self, keep doing what you’re doing and doing your best, and I think collectively we’ll move the needle in the right direction.”

While the end of March marks the end of Women’s History Month, IC EEOD and the ODNI Women’s Employee Resource Group plan to publish more articles highlighting the different workshops hosted at the Summit, as well as more information and resources on creating a more effective network.

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