Journalist Pamela Ryckman has uncovered a groundswell of new women’s groups which she documents in her book Stiletto Network, Inside the Women’s Power Circles That are Changing the Face of Business. She says these networks are sprouting up all over the country in numbers never seen before.
“I thought if this formula was working for so many different types of women, I could share the message and then I could get other people doing it too.” Pamela Ryckman
Pamela worked on Wall Street before becoming a writer for the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and several other publications. In her new book she shares stories of women banding together to help other women realize their dreams and support their causes.
We hear about all kinds of new women’s groups at TWE and wanted to share Pamela’s expertise about the subject by excerpting Stacey Gualandi’s interview with her on TWE Radio. Help us spread the word about this ever-expanding network!….
STACEY: It’s a perfect title. Are you amazed at the response you’ve had?
I saw this happening to all women in all industries, in all age groups. I found women meeting in dinner groups and networking circles in every major city across the U.S. Most of the groups have no more than ten women, but they add up to the tens and hundreds of thousands of women across the country.
I thought if this formula was working for so many different types of women, I could share the message and then I could get other people doing it too.
STACEY: I think the movement will keep feeding on itself. Before writing, you were on Wall Street. How was it for women in your field?
PAMELA: I left Wall Street before I got senior enough that women started dropping like flies. When I was looking up and ahead of me, in my late 20’s, there weren’t a lot of women in the upper echelons in Wall Street or management consulting. I knew, and of course I’d heard, the stereotype about high-powered women in the workforce.
I started to find all of these groups defied the age-old stereotypes I’d seen and heard about. This story was really about women who collaborated and helped each other in all areas of life.
STACEY: Were you scared to make that leap from the management consultant world to writing?
PAMELA: Yes! It also happened for me at a time when it was a natural point of consideration. I went to grad school in journalism when I was 30 at the time I had my first child. I was working 12-15 hour days until 3 days before I gave birth to him.
I hadn’t experienced sexism in the workforce, and I had great relationship with male colleagues. But when it came down to it, I was looking at a life where there wasn’t any flexibility, where I would never see my kids. More importantly, I wasn’t that passionate about what I was doing.
So, I knew I was meant to work, but what was I meant to do? I always wanted to be a writer. Now, I was an untraditional candidate trying to break into a new field while making babies.
“It was always women who gave me a hand, opened a door for me, who made an introduction. They saw, even though I was pregnant and I wanted to work from home, I was still a hard worker, a viable candidate. I am so grateful for that.”
STACEY: Your book is a great compilation of so many fascinating women’s stories and their paths to success. Did you think you would write a book at this point in your life?
PAMELA: Yes, but later. When this all started, my third child was a year old. I’d just stopped nursing. I was still tired and addle-brained. I was just excited to go back to writing articles for the New York Times.
This book actually started when I was writing an article for the Times. I attended a women’s conference in California. I walked into a room of 50 of some of the nation’s most high-powered women and was struck immediately by the fact that they didn’t look like the women from Wall Street that I knew 15 years ago
STACEY: What were you seeing that was different?
PAMELA: What I was witnessing was women who were, in many cases, in chic dresses, hairstyles, and shoes and they were interacting in this very feminine way. They were clasping hands and hugging hello and talking about work. Absolutely, they were there to get business done, but the conversations were all over.
American Management Association, published 5/22/13
What I was witnessing were women who were feminine and truly comfortable in their own skin. I wanted to know what enabled these women to be so successful and still be so confident. I got obsessed and started doing interviews to try to figure what was different in the world.
STACEY: What was the main reason for these “stiletto networks?”
PAMELA: The initial groups were formed for friendship and learning. These women were looking outside their industry for other people who would understand their unique business and personal issues. They were really looking for friends, like-minded who were sharing experiences, ethics and values.
Women are finally doing what men have done since time in memorial. They are merging business and friendship and now capitalizing on these connections. It’s not just a bunch of women going to dinner because there is a massive money trail attached as well.
STACEY: Is there an intimidation factor when you are exposed to women in these high-powered positions?
PAMELA: One-hundred percent yes! It’s not like I was running the Fortune 500’s Most Powerful Women’s Conference. I am a freelance writer for the Times and I have three young children and I work at home in my sweatpants.
“There were about five women at the start who believed in me and thought I was onto something and encouraged me along. What these women did for me was exactly what they did for each other.”
They started opening doors and making recommendations, but, who were they introducing me to? Their closest friends. And who were their closest friends? Other senior level people. Other CEOs. As a journalist, I know these people are usually ensconced behind gatekeepers and walls of PR.
Because I had come to them through their girlfriends, the doors flew open. So, it helped me gain confidence over time. Then I knew I was on to something. I felt like I had the wind at my back because all these women were helping me build this story.
STACEY: Look at your own network as a result. How many women did you interview in this process?
PAMELA: I talk about 40 groups in the book. But, between the dinner groups I sat in on, and all the background interviews, it was actually more than 1,000. I had more than 700 pages of single spaced notes for this book. Part of it was that I was having so much fun.
How often do you get, either as a journalist or just as a person, to talk to some of the world’s most accomplished, powerful people in an open-ended way about their lives and friendship? Many of these women talked about these groups in terms reserved for love like “life-changing” and “fated” and “meant to be.”
And these are their best friends. The stories are very real and moving and sometimes hard to hear. A lot of the women got really raw and talked about what it was really like.
MSNBC’s “The Cycle”–6/25/13
STACEY: You have three boys. So, you are surrounded by men. Is there something ironic about that?
PAMELA: It is testosterone central around my house. Interestingly, I was never somebody who thought about gender differences. I didn’t do women’s studies in college. I worked with all men and I worked productively.
Having all boys made me believe in inherent gender differences. My house is like the National Geographic. with animals jumping all over themselves on the furniture.
I think, also, that all these women helped me launch my second act, my journalism career. The big joke is that this book is my 4th child, and it’s a girl!
STACEY: Can anyone be in one of these network groups or do you have to be rich and famous?
PAMELA: NO! I say that time and again. I found these groups among senior executives, but I’ve also found them among aspiring millennials. Young girls in their 20’s are trying to launch companies, “girlpreneurs,” vibrant young women. Also, moms are launching business in their basements.
As a journalist trying to prove this was a powerful trend, of course I went after women who were making big money deals. These women are moving billions of dollars, but, in fact, anyone can do this. There are certain things these groups have in common that anyone can replicate.
PAMELA: The first thing I found that these groups have in common is that they are diverse. If you are bringing these people together for friendship, learning and hopefully to springboard each other for success, then the stiletto network cannot be a cabal for best buddies or for a gripe session for fellow employees.
The most effective groups tend to draw women with diverse skills from a variety of industries–tech, media, retail, finance. These industries are linked and interrelated in ways that were not imaginable ten years ago.
For women to be tapped in and get that global wide-ranging insight from a wide variety of women is incredibly valuable. They introduce women who might not otherwise meet, keep their thinking fresh and they expand their horizons that increase their spheres of influence.
When you are starting your stiletto network, you want to balance that diversity with a filter for relevance and shared experience. These groups are tight; these women are friends.
They are really able to spot opportunities for each other before each member spots it for herself. All these diverse women share some traits or common touchpoints, whether it’s age, level of expertise. You can’t have a CEO with a young 20-something analyst. That would be mentorship. It should be peer-to-peer engagement.
STACEY: And that’s the key. Where do men fit in to all of this? Are they going to become obsolete?
PAMELA: I hope not! What kind of a world would that be for my sons? The most wonderful thing about this story, since I never could have written a man-hating book, is that it’s not about that or about women competing with men.
“It’s about women who have found their trusted advisors and trusted friends and closest confidantes in other women. In all of these women, I found not one was a table-pounding, agenda-based person. All of them, to get where they are in life, had to work very productively with men.”
Many of them stated that outright. “I don’t want to be perceived as a man-hater. I love guys. It just so happens that all of these women are the people who have seen me through.”
STACEY: You’ve really struck a chord. I’m glad you enlightened us about stiletto networks. Now, we’re all going to go out and buy some stilettos to join a group. Congratulations on all your success, Pamela!