Mainstreaming Your Networks - Part One

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being asked to speak at the Windy City Woman Diamond Awards.  Windy City Woman is a social and civic based organization dedicated to educating and empowering multicultural women.  It was formed in response to the need to provide women of color with a platform to grow, live and experience prosperous lives.  I want to congratulate the women who were honored (click here for a list of honorees) that night and express my gratitude to the organizers for including me in such a fantastic event.
At the event, I was asked to speak about the importance of mainstreaming your networks.  I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on the subject from the night.  As women in business, we all understand how vital it is it to network; however when you are a woman of color, you may have to approach it a bit differently and expand beyond your natural constituencies.  This is where you make connections with people you don't normally travel in the same circles with. 
I like to call that mainstreaming.
As I like to say, I'm a Latina from "the neighborhood," - I was born and raised in Pilsen - so my own "natural constituencies" were of course, rooted in the Latino community.  When I was with Anheuser-Busch Companies and was promoted to the corporate headquarters in St. Louis, I made a conscious decision to network outside my comfort zone and go "mainstream." 
I knew that I was going to be working with a predominately male, white, leadership and that they were going to see me first and foremost as Latina and NOT a professional who happened to BE a Latina. 
At the end of the day, the common language - that we all speak in business - is money, and this is true whether you're Black, White, Hispanic or Asian.  Once you understand that green is the favored color among business leaders, you begin to realize, we're not all that different.   No matter our background, race or religion, we're all thinking the same thing: how to make more money!  Make that the engine behind why you expand your networks. 
Money really is the great equalizer.
I happen to view networking as a series of three circles: your core circle, your business circle and the elite circle.
The smallest circle on the inside is your core circle of influence, the people you come into contact with everyday: friends, employees, vendors, your colleagues - even the valet guy. They are your natural constituencies and where the networking is the easiest or most natural.
The next circle encompasses your business contacts, the people you see at events in your industry.  This circle requires more effort to network and build relationships but one that you can achieve with patience, persistence and passion. 
The widest circle, or what I like to call the "elite" circle, is the hardest one and the farthest from your core network.  They are the CEO's, high level executives, VIPs, or contacts who may not be in your industry.
Try to be yourself, because being real and authentic is where the real networking begins.  If you're not comfortable with yourself, it will be hard for others to relax and be comfortable with you. 
While the outer circle is the furthest away from you, it can be the most influential and most lucrative of spheres.  Your mission should be to get into that circle, but be smart, diligent and strategic about it. 
Next week, I'll share my four principles of networking.
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