13 years ago, when I got my first job, right after graduation, one of my first assignments was to facilitate networking among local business men and -women in the city I worked in.
I planned a series of network meet-ups, and for the first event we invited a young successful businesswoman and self-declared expert on networking, Soulaima Gourani.
Still today, I remember how she started her speech, because it made me very embarrassed. She asked everybody in the room to make a list of people in their network that they could and would go to if they wanted new inspiration or a second opinion on a business plan, difficult professional choices, or changes in career plans.
I easily made a long list of names and was actually very proud of myself as I had just at that time initiated a formal network of people who should support each other in the transition from university graduates to young professionals.
But what Soulaima said next really embarrassed me. She asked us to look at our list of names in regards to gender, nationality/cultural background, age and professional background. And then she asked us to cross out all the names on our list with whom we had two or more characteristics in common…
Almost everybody on my list were women, my own age, many with similar educational backgrounds. And they were all Danish. I was so embarrassed. I had a degree in International Development Studies after all and I had lived and worked in a handful of countries already. I did know people who were not exactly like myself, but they were not on my network list of people I would go to for advise on business and career. Why was that?
Being in a network of people who are just like yourself is really nice and comforting. People just like you can understand and support the choices you make. But that was exactly the point Soulaima wanted to make: If you really want new ideas, new opportunities, develop your career or business, or whatever you are trying to develop right now, you have to seek the advice of people in your network that are not like yourself. Yes, they will ask the difficult questions and might even tell you things you do not want to hear. But in doing so, they can inspire you in developing your business, your career and your ideas into something even greater than what you could ever have imagined yourself.
Seek the diversity
Now, I am 13 years of experience down the road – and two international assignments wiser. I am very proud when today I make the list of people with whom I plan to present and discuss my current business plans. They are not all Danish. None of them have the same educational background as myself. They are not all in my age group. And some of them are not even women.
So I now dare you: Make a list of people in your network you want to discuss your future career opportunities, business plans and new ideas with. Cross out the people that are too much like yourself and see who you have left?
If you are just now planning your first international assignment, your network might be a very homogeneous group of people. But I will bet you; after a few years abroad – embracing everything a global expatriation experience has to offer – your network list will soon start to look completely different.
If you doubt me, take a look at the members of here we are. Here’s an inspirational network list for you. And you are of course welcome to join us. That is, if you don’t mind that we are not all just like you!
Mette Lindgaard Seligmann is a business facilitator and strategic communication consultant currently based in Cleveland.