The following is a guest post from Meghan E. Butler, founder of Frame+Function, and contributor to Fast Company and Thrive Global.
There is something to be said for a hotel ballroom full of people supporting women. But not just any people, but those who are the smartest at what they do. Whose brains and businesses buck the outdated conventions of a legacy economy.
At the Dell Women Entrepreneur’s Network (DWEN) summit in Singapore this July, we experienced something quite exceptional – the faces of modern business at work…for each other.
More than 200 women business owners, investors, media, Dell executives and partners traversed the world to sit in service to women entrepreneurs for three powerful days. The women entrepreneurs in attendance were from 20 countries across 16 industries, with a combined revenue of more than $1 billion.
If that doesn’t surprise you, it should.
The modern marketplace is not homogenous and development events for women business owners shouldn’t be either. In fact, many of them started their businesses to ensure diversity in both their local and global economies.
For the last ten years, DWEN has hosted this annual summit as the primary connection point for DWEN network members. The programming is curated based on the unique needs of women business owners, all of which boil down to one simple notion: Access.
Any woman entrepreneur will tell you – and even prove – that she can create her own opportunity. That’s probably what made her a business owner in the first place!
But what we can’t always create for ourselves is access.
Access to contracts, to capital, to advanced technologies, to legal counsel, to business expertise, to talent. DWEN exists to hot wire this access for its members, ensuring they continue to grow and thrive as the backbone of their economies worldwide.
Access is made possible through connection. And connection is the antidote to feeling lonely as the boss.
This is what I learned by connecting with some of the smartest and most determined women in the world.
Make Connections Over Finding Opportunity
“We provide the platform and the agenda. At the end of the day, DWEN exists to foster the impactful yet hard-to-find connection between powerful women founders,” explained Ingrid Devin, DWEN’s director.
Myself and most any other participant I met experienced DWEN as networking on steroids. But Chanel Davis, founder of Davis, Davis & Harmon, LLC, a sales tax consultancy in Dallas, Texas, offered a more astute insight.
“DWEN isn’t about networking. It’s about power resourcing. I don’t want your business card. I want to know how can I help you. What do you need?” Davis offered. “And I felt reciprocity. That’s a significantly different conference design altogether.”
Connect With People Who Know What You Don’t
One of my favorite leadership proverbs is simple: “If you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
Emotionally intelligent founders “power resource” by seeking out others who know something they don’t.
Mariana Freitas, co-founder and CEO of Sirius App, a secure organizational messaging platform in Sao Paolo, Brazil, found herself in an unusual position when starting her business – she was building a technology product without any experience in the tech industry.
“Being a woman in tech is already very challenging, but no background in tech makes it even harder,” Freitas explained. “I had to develop a new network since all my previous experience was in sales and marketing. I spent months at night overthinking ways to find the best route for my business. One of my solutions was joining DWEN.”
“I experienced intense personal growth and diverse benefits to my business,” continued Freitas. “I feel more prepared to drive my company’s progress. The DWEN events and initiatives have been fundamental to driving my networking and my business growth.”
Know What You Need, But Stay Open to Receiving it from Different Connections
You’re automatically handicapped if you show up at a business event without objectives. I’m not talking about an agenda, I mean understanding where you need to fill in the gaps of your strengths. This takes exceptional personal and organizational self-awareness.
“My objective at DWEN this year was to explore the possibility of overseas expansion,” said Fumika Yonekura, founder of Waris, a professional services organization helping women in Japan re-enter the workforce at different stages in their career.
“Before I participated in DWEN, we had no clue how to expand internationally. Through the international business sessions and conversations with other attendees, I learned our original business expansion plan will not match easily in other countries. However, experts and other attendees redirected us to the possibility of expansion in Singapore and Hong Kong, two cities better suited for our business model and purpose. These new connections will also help us with overseas partnerships.”
In my experience, and in Fumika’s, the most meaningful outcomes of power resourcing happen when you stay open to possibility – even if it comes packaged in a way you weren’t expecting.
Take A Cue from Asia: Meaningful Connections Don’t Happen at the Meeting Table
During the session focused on doing business in Asia, DWEN members learned key insights about market entry. But what was most important – and what was modeled for us by our gracious and exceptional hosts from Singapore – in Asia, business isn’t done at the conference table.
Business is done after building trust through small talk and exploratory conversations.
In fact, during a tour through town to the famous Gardens by the Bay, the bus was positively abuzz, the pitch and decibels climbing as conversations became more and more engaging. Our very charming tour director thought he would be showing us his beloved city, instead, he very gracefully opted not to based on how much meaningful business was being thrown about the carriage.
He seemed more delighted than disappointed.
It’s easy for the Western world to discount the importance of chatter. This is a challenge to all of us to reframe our relationships and intentions for social moments versus business ones.
Following this year’s DWEN event in Singapore, Ingrid Devin shared the feedback she hears year after year – “We need more time.”
And boy, was she right.
DWEN proved to me that connections aren’t made through opportunity, they’re made through service. And there’s always time to be of use to someone else.
Who will you connect with and serve today?
About the author
Meghan E. Butler, founder of Frame+Function, and contributor to Fast Company and Thrive Global.
Meghan is on a mission to create a more emotionally intelligent world by helping people make real-time connections that matter. Her “Emotional Intelligence @ Work” editorial platform is designed in service of emerging leaders, established leaders, and the people who coach them. She currently contributes to Fast Company and Thrive Global. Her leadership commentary can also be found at Inc. Magazine and The Muse. Meghan is certified by MHS Systems to administer and coach to the EQ-i 2.0 and EQ-i 360 psychometric assessments. She is a co-founder and partner at Frame+Function, a strategic communications consultancy. She was recently recognized by the 2019 Austin Under 40 Awards, and is a nominee for Austin Business Journal’s 2019 Profiles in Power.