Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the author’s book, Network Beyond Bias, and reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Your Professional Network: Invest Strategically
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Your network is your net worth.” Gale Porter coined this phrase with his book by the same title. But let’s take his concept one step further. Your network is an investment, like your 401(k). You wouldn’t put your life savings into just one company’s stock. Nor would you pick your investment portfolio based on where your friends or cousins or sorority sisters work - you would diversify. In other words, you would spread your money around so that a downturn in a single company or industry wouldn’t leave you bankrupt. You might even re-balance your portfolio occasionally so future investments didn’t get too concentrated in a single stock or fund.
Diversify Your Network Investment
Just as you wouldn’t put all your financial eggs in one basket, you also need to diversify your professional relationships. Your network, after all, is an investment of your time, your energy, and your reputation. Everything you will accomplish in your career will come from investing these resources effectively, efficiently, and wisely. The returns on this investment include access to jobs and promotions, market insights, industry knowledge, clients, mentors, business partners, and so on. The interest you will compound in your network will make you valuable beyond your wildest dreams.
So why, then, do we concentrate our professional networks based on what’s easiest, closest, or most like us? And if we’re doing the work anyway, why not build our networks with diversity in mind? We need to recognize which perspectives we may be missing, and then we need to seek out people who are different.
Aspects of Diversity
Different aspects of our identities radiate from us like spokes of a bicycle tire. The primary aspects are immutable characteristics. These identifiers are the ones we and others use to determine how we fit into the world, at our very core: gender, race, age, generation, ethnicity, physical ability, primary language, nationality, and sexual orientation.
Beyond these core identities, there are other factors that influence how we interact with and experience the world around us. Where we live, how much money we make, how we worship, and marital status are some examples. In terms of work, we might consider a person’s industry, level of education, employer, or level of management as important diversity considerations.
All these dimensions combine in exciting ways that make each person’s worldview a unique kaleidoscope of perspective. When we mix these points of view together, we innovate in ways that are rich and colorful and exciting, far beyond that which we could ever conceive on our own. By investing our time and energy into connecting with people and ideas outside of our own norms, we create new opportunities for ourselves and others.
About the author:
As CEO of Lead at Any Level LLC, Amy C. Waninger works with organizations that want to build leadership bench strength for a sustainable competitive advantage. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com