~ May 16, 2014 ~
In October I will be at Mii Amo, a destination spa in Sedona, Arizona, leading a 4-day retreat with workshops to help participants articulate and achieve their dreams, hopefully by forming their own Stiletto Networks.
This is something I never thought I would do. But through “Stiletto Network,” I’ve come to expect the unexpected. As I celebrate the book’s one-year anniversary, I’m realizing just how many “firsts” the past 12 months have brought.
I’m going to tell you why Mii Amo is special (and of course I hope you’ll all sign up for the retreat), but first a bit of history:
Back in 2010, when I started this process, I’d recently stopped nursing my third child and couldn’t imagine embarking on a large project. I was exhausted, just hanging on, and freelancing for The New York Times while raising three active boys seemed like work enough – at least for the moment. I was not, as we say, leaning in.
Still, while reporting an article, I had a hunch that something was changing in the world, so every day I woke up and tried to figure it out. I was doing work that was personally interesting and engaging – interviewing smart, successful women about their lives – and work that felt right in a deep, intuitive way.
For the first time in my career, perhaps in my life, I had no plan for where it would lead. In fact, I’d taken 100 pages of single-spaced notes before I admitted to anyone (including myself) that I was writing a book. I was just loving the work.
This approach, and the book that followed, has brought more blessings, both personally and professionally, than I ever could have imagined, and I’ve become much more comfortable with uncertainty and risk. The past few years have also been filled with meaningful coincidences, what some (including Deepak Chopra, who blurbed “Stiletto Network”) call “synchronicity.”
Synchronicity led me to Mii Amo.
Last summer, after the whirlwind launch of “Stiletto Network,” I retreated to Maine with my family. I was elated by the response to the book, but also completely drained after two months of press and travel, and I longed to hike and bike and sail with my kids, to think and write and stare at the ocean.
Mostly I lived like a hermit in Maine, but on a rare night I ventured out for dinner with my wonderful friend Diana, a fellow mom and writer who lives in D.C. During a long conversation about struggling for that elusive balance, Diana mentioned a place she’d visited on her 40th birthday – a red rock canyon in Arizona considered sacred ground by many tribes, a place she’d found transformative and from which she returned with a well of energy and love.
“I think you’d love it there,” she said. “I think you should go.”
Of course this sounded great, if totally unrealistic; I was already traveling for speaking engagements and couldn’t possibly take more time away from my kids. So I filed it away and headed back to my frenetic city life. Then, on November 23, 2013, I received an email from Diana: “Hello Pamela!! Have been thinking about you and will call you soon to catch up.” Diana and I are close, but we rarely speak during the year for all the obvious reasons. Life is busy. It was unlike Diana to email me out of the blue.
The same night, I was having dinner with the amazing Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of Indagare, and the former travel editor for Town & Country magazine. Melissa is of the most erudite people, and certainly the most well-traveled person, I know. Her job is to ferret out new and exciting destinations, to curate experiences for a glamorous clientele, so she seldom goes anywhere twice.
Yet here she was, talking about a place in Arizona she visits ever year, a place where magic happens. “Yes, it sounds New Agey,” Melissa writes in her review on Indagare, “but Mii Amo… is a place that makes you believe that a better you—and that can mean whatever you wish—is attainable.”
As Melissa spoke at dinner, I kept thinking, “This is Diana’s place too.” And it was.
In the same spirit with which I wrote “Stiletto Network” – doing what feels right without over-thinking – I immediately signed up for Indagare’s annual trip to Mii Amo (which means “journey” in a Native American language). I found its location, activities, guides, and healers to be every bit as powerful and restorative as my friends claimed (see Melissa’s piece, Mii Amo: An Addiction, posted after our January trip).
It’s an honor to be leading this retreat, which coincidentally coincides with my 40th birthday. Synchronicity.
~ February 4, 2014 ~
As social creatures, we connect, explore, and shop based on the recommendations of people we trust. When a foodie friend suggests a new restaurant, we reserve a table. When a colleague or mentor tells us to meet someone, we do so without hesitation.
But when we broadcast suggestions or requests on social media, there’s no guarantee that valued sources or experts will see them and respond. There’s no consistent way to cut through the noise.
At least that’s what Claudia Batten, a serial entrepreneur, found when searching for technology hardware experts. Despite being extremely well-connected – Batten has thousands of ties on LinkedIn, thousands of (real) Twitter followers, and hundreds of Facebook friends – she lacked a quick way to tap her contacts for advice. Instead, she found herself individually emailing people she thought might be able to help.
“It was really inefficient,” Batten says. “But even worse, it was ineffective.”
Batten and co-founders – who agreed that their increased connectivity had diminishing returns – created “Broadli,” an app to catalyze the targeted assistance they observed among “super-connectors” and highly effective peers. “LinkedIn is a powerful tool,” Batten continues. “It’s great that everyone is in this awesome digital Rolodex, but now let’s put them to work.”
Broadli enables users to activate their networks strategically, to zero in on people who can be most helpful at a particular time. The app connects to a user’s LinkedIn account and pulls in contacts, which the user then sorts into categories: “Inspired,” “Dormant,” “Don’t Know,” and “Want to Know.” Folks with whom she has close, personal relationships are “Inspired” and form a trusted network. All other contacts are divided into one of the other clusters and stored for later networking potential.
From there, the user defines her mission – the foremost thing she is trying to accomplish, such as moving to a new city, changing jobs, or launching a company or charity. Her “Inspired” inner circle can then make tactical introductions to members of their own coteries to help the friend advance toward her goal.
In developing the app, Broadli co-founders aim to facilitate the “intentional generosity” they’ve experienced in trusted networks. Networking, they say, isn’t a zero-sum game. Rather, it should be about building relationships that go the distance, helping others without expecting an immediate return.
“Networking for ambition alone is a thing of the past,” Batten continues. “It’s supporting people to help them achieve their dreams because, when they do, you feel the ‘win’ yourself. It’s supporting people because you care about their lives.”
One might expect such idealism from starry-eyed Millennials, but Broadli’s three initial co-founders are high-flying female executives in their late-thirties and forties. After decades in the workforce, the women were looking for a better way to work, and Broadli’s corporate structure – or lack thereof – mirrors the flat, non-hierarchical collaboration they hope their app will accelerate.
Even before last month when Zappos, the online retailer, announced its plan to abandon a traditional top-down org structure in favor of self-governing circles for the company’s 1,500 employees, Broadli co-founders worked successfully without titles, job descriptions, or ownership of ideas. The process of incorporating forced Broadli to name a president, but co-founders insist this “old-world” paradigm runs counter to creativity and innovation. Major advances, they say, result from openness and diversity.
While Broadli’s team now includes two male co-founders, Matt Null and John Weiss, the entrepreneurs say the app was created from a “feminine perspective,” which values collaboration. “Real collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision,” says Alessandra Lariu, a Broadli co-founder who is also CEO of Shout, a global advertising collective. “Real collaborators behave in a ‘what’s mine is yours’ manner.”
Weiss says he finds the forward-thinking nature of his female colleagues refreshing; they consistently focus on possibilities for the future, he says, whereas some male-dominated organizations tend to emphasize past success.
Still, the Broadli crew cautions against getting mired in group-think and wonders how their model will scale (they’ll be watching Zappos closely). But for now they’re continuing the experiment.
“We’re so excited about the possibilities of this venture – not only for the ability to extend purposeful networking, but also for the opportunity to create a way of working together that is qualitatively different from other workplaces we’ve known,” says V. Mary Abraham, a co-founder who is also a lawyer and knowledge management expert. “An organization created by women who are consciously looking for a better way is a wonderful thing!”
~ January 27, 2014 ~
“When we share these diverse images on our social networks, we are taking personal ownership and truly redefining beauty.” – Cynthia Wade
Last fall, I was privileged to meet Academy Award-winning director Cynthia Wade, who won an Oscar for her documentary “Freeheld” in 2007 and was nominated again in 2012 for “Mondays at Racine.” Cynthia also directs commercials and works with advertising agencies that want to use real people to tell engaging, emotional stories.
I had dinner with Cynthia and liked her so much that I invited her out two nights later to another dinner I was attending with some friends in advertising, as well as Michael Crook, a talented photographer (female – don’t let the name fool you) I’d met months before at a charity event.
We gathered on a rainy night at a cozy restaurant on Bleeker Street and, as with all #StilettoNetwork dinners, there was no explicit goal or agenda; we were just there to catch up and/or get to know one another.
Cynthia and Michael talked for much of the night, and within a month Cynthia pitched the idea for a short film called “Selfie,” with Michael as the featured photographer, for Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty.” On Monday, the 7-minute film Cynthia conceived and directed premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a beautiful collaboration, and it’s going viral now.
“SHOWING UP to these networking meetings is the key to success!” Cynthia wrote in an email. “That dinner was challenging to get to, as I was traveling down from MA just for the dinner and back – and I’d only just gotten back home from a week business trip, so it would have been easy to stay home. I AM SO GLAD I WENT.”
So are we. Congratulations Cynthia and Michael!
~ November 18, 2013 ~
The recent talk of renewed feminism—of leaning in and having it all—has some folks wondering: Why can’t women behave like Indians?
In 1992, a group of male Silicon Valley executives with roots in the Indus region realized they were being treated like second-class citizens. “We had foreign accents, different educations and values. We dressed differently. People thought, ‘I can’t put this guy in front of a client, I can’t invest in this guy’s company,’” said Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and academic who teaches at Stanford and Duke, among other institutions. “We couldn’t pretend there wasn’t a problem.”
They created The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), which stokes entrepreneurship for members globally. Members systematically sponsored and invested in each other. Each prosperous Indian found a promising protégé to groom. The mentor did whatever was necessary—from making introductions, to personally funding, to buying new clothes—to help the greenhorn adapt and achieve. The members aimed, as TiE’s website says, to foster a “virtuous cycle of wealth creation and giving back to the community.”
TiE now has about 13,000 members in fifty-seven chapters across fourteen countries and, as a result, Wadhwa, who was the founding president of the Carolinas chapter of TiE, said Southeast Asians have become a disproportionately successful, sought-out bloc in the workforce. “It worked for us because we banded together,” he continued. “We fixed the problem systematically and led by example.”
So why haven’t women appropriated this formula for success? “Women fit into society better because you’re only different in one sense. It’s easier for you to pretend you’re the same as guys, but you need to recognize there’s still a problem.”
Even the white boys agree. Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur who has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, and Columbia, said that Silicon Valley in the late 1970s was a sea of homogeny. “The notion of Chinese or Indians running a company was laughable. They were good engineers, but couldn’t run a company,” said Blank, who was listed as one of Harvard Business Review’s “Masters of Innovation” in 2012. “Over the last thirty years, almost every ethnicity started a support group. People collect over the notion of tribes, and the women-thing is the next rational barrier to fall. I have two college-age daughters, and it’s time.”
These guys have a point, but they don’t realize it’s already happening—because the really vibrant women’s networks have been completely underground. Without declaring an explicit agenda like TiE’s, women across the nation have been adopting the Indian model for success. They are mobilizing their #StilettoNetworks (i.e., tribes) and, for the first time in history, seeing a monetary return on time invested with girlfriends.
~ August 5, 2013 ~
Stiletto Network has been so inspiring for me personally, and my intention in telling this story has been not only to identify, but also to catalyze this powerful nationwide movement. So I’m thrilled to report that since the book was published in May, I’ve received hundreds of emails from women across the country who either have their own Stiletto Networks or want to start one.
I’ve found these groups among women in all industries and age groups — from CEOs to aspiring Millennials to moms launching businesses in their basements. This proves that you don’t need to be famous or fabulous to create a Stiletto Network, and you need not begin with major connections. Anyone can do this.
Need more evidence? Channel 7 WSPA recently aired a fantastic segment showcasing Stiletto Networks in South Carolina — groups like “Women Mean Business” in Greenville and “Sparkle” in Spartanburg. These are local female entrepreneurs, women merging business and friendship and helping each other grow.
To quote Laura Thomas, WSPA anchor/reporter: “It’s a community of women with high heels, and even higher hopes.”
Women like Laura Skelton, owner of River Falls Spa; Duffy Baehr, owner of Baehr Feet; Anne Anderson, owner of Herb & Renewal; Brooke Shugart of Studio B for Pilates and Barre; Brandy Gutierrez of iRecycle; and Sara Riddle, who is opening a maternity and nursing store called Haute Mama.
“We have many roles,” says Shugart. “We’re mothers and wives and business owners, and I just feel like it’s very important for us to encourage each other.”
~ June 29, 2013 ~
After more than two months of practice, members of Congress and members of the media — the “Bad News Babes” — faced off on Wednesday at the fifth annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game. It was my great pleasure to cover the event for both the Washington Post and for MSNBC’s “The Cycle.”
While their male counterparts remain divided along party lines — the annual Congressional Baseball Game, which includes almost all men, pits Republicans against Democrats — the softball team is a bipartisan effort.
This game is notorious for its trash-talking, but it’s fostering a spirit of civility in politics. Players say it has allowed them to develop strong personal ties that are reducing antagonism on Capitol Hill, easing gridlock, and slowly overturning the Old Boys’ Clubs of both politics and press.
Sound familiar? We call it the “Cleats Network” — and it is ridiculously fun.
Even better? These ladies raised $125,000 for the Young Survival Coalition, which tends to the unique needs of young women with breast cancer.