gen-xyb™ High Tea – Our First Annual Alumni Event
On May 13, 2015 we celebrated our first Annual Alumni event for the gen-xyb™ High Tea program. I designed the program and launched it in 2014. This program for development and advancement of women in the workplace stands apart due to its unique focus on cross-generational collaboration. This wonderful year-long program brings together women in cross-generational pairs to gain valuable perspectives and insights into generations other than their own; and provides a platform to use those insights with great effect to collaborate together on their professional development and career advancement. Building on a first year of great success, the program grew by fifty percent in 2015 and is on track to continue with accelerated growth into 2016.
With the program now being in the second year, and in the spirit of continuing to facilitate access to and building career essential networks for the participating women, I made a strategic decision to make one of the sessions in each calendar year an Alumni event. Bringing together the participants from each year’s cohort will both expand and deepen the connectivity, community and shared investment in each other’s careers amongst these incredible women. To further the impact of the annual Alumni event I also elected to turn the energy and talents of all the gen-xyb™ High Tea women onto another community of women that are working extremely hard in their own right to build a presence, obtain recognition, make an impact and lead with their efforts. That community is women in technology: specifically high flying female founders of start-ups and high potentials in technology start-ups. Three wonderful ladies – Juleah Szopo, Rachel LaConti, and Claire Schlafly – worked closely with me to help me gain access to women in the tech startup community.
Over 60 women from the 2014 and 2015 program years and the startup technology community gathered together at Osteria Via Stato on Wednesday May 13th, 2015. Two generous organizations sponsored the event: CDW and Robert W. Baird. Over tasty appetizers, sandwiches encased in a crispy but feathery light bread, and an assortment of deserts that cried out “Just one more”, three guest speakers shared their insights with the group on topics related to branding your vision and asking for what you want.
Donna Smith Bellinger, the Advancement Strategist from Group Endeavors, made the following key points:
- The work that you do has to affect more than just the bottom line. Step outside of the realm of service. Everyone needs to have a legacy – what is it that you want to leave behind? Work is what you do; not what you are.
- Whoever you work for, whatever you do, whatever it is that you sell – it has to be in alignment with your values.
- Be very clear about what it is that you want. Whatever it is that speaks to you – claim it and name it.
- Get focused, create a process for yourself to follow, and hold yourself accountable.
- You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Think carefully and manage who those five people are in each of the different dimensions in your life. So for example you might have five in business, five in fitness or health, and five in spirituality.
- Permission is granted for you to be the best that you can possibly be.
On the heels of those powerful insights, Benedict P. Rocchio, a Partner with Robert W. Baird in the Baird Capital/Venture Capital Group, shared best practices about gaining access to the resources you need to do what it is you want to do.
- Wherever possible gain introductions through your network, and find a way to make a personal connection with the individual(s) of whom you are making the request.
- Explain why you are uniquely positioned to do this thing, why you will do it better than anyone else.
- You should own the follow-ups, i.e. make the follow-ups yours to do, not theirs.
- If you get turned down, know that it is not personal. Talk through what would have needed to happen to switch it to a “yes”. Push for the feedback.
Benedict also shared what they look for in terms of backing startups. He said the major areas they pay attention to are the makeup of the team, and the size of the total addressable market. In terms of Return On Investment (ROI) on seed funding, he indicated the following factors are relevant to them: how were the returns on investment used, what goals and milestones were achieved, how the business performed against the qualitative things they said they were going to do, and proven growth. He encouraged creating a score card for the business.
One the heels of his comments, and before we transitioned to the next speaker, I made the point to the group that even as an individual, you should create score cards for your own personal goals and performance. This is a very powerful tool to use in discussions with leaders, your personal Board of Directors, and any coaches and mentors you may work with.
Our final speaker was Kristi Zuhlke. Kristi is CEO and Co-Founder of KnowledgeHound. She kicked off her comments with a chuckle, stating that by now she views herself as a professional asker! She shared three of her golden rules when it comes to asking for what you want.
- You actually ask!
- Recognize you are not asking for what you think you are asking for. Rather, recognize you are asking them to join an opportunity that you are presenting to them. Therefore you need to lay out the vision, share with them where you are going with this, and why you are asking them to join the adventure. It might sound like, “Here is where I can take your company.” or “Here is where my career is going.”.
- Put on your man pants and ask for that opportunity. If you are really scared and feel like you can’t do it for yourself, then think far beyond yourself and ask anyway, i.e. ask on behalf of all women.
Kristi ended her comments with a humorous but apt observation about pitching to investors, saying, “Pitching to investors is like dating – they have to like you as much as you like them.”
The rest of the time at the Alumni event was an opportunity for the corporate women in the gen-xyb™ High Tea program and the women in the tech startups to network with each other, and also to provide visibility to some of the great startups growing right here in our own wonderful city of Chicago. Women from CharlieApp, Fooda, SpotHero and Uber were present to showcase their products and services. Women in both the corporate and startup camps all benefited from each other as they shared career stories, experiences, best practices and lessons learned. This year’s gen-xyb™ High Tea Alumni event had been designed and positioned as an opportunity to build bridges between women in corporate and women in tech. Based on the extremely positive feedback, business cards exchanged, and the richness of the dialog and interaction that played out, I can comfortably say, “Mission accomplished!”. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to planning and executing the event, to our sponsors CDW and Robert W. Baird, and to everyone that attended.