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Building New Girls Networks, One Woman at a Time

stock_handshakeWhether in subtle and informal ways or through company-sponsored networking groups, women are taking it upon themselves to build their own girls’ networks in the hope that, one day, they’ll rival the old boys’ ones.

“I don’t think women need to go through men’s networks to advance,” Elizabeth Sandler, managing director of corporate strategy at Deutsche Bank, says. “Our own networks may be youthful in comparison, but there are definitely new girls’ networks within different industries.”

Sandler bases her belief on an observation she made at last year’s Women on Wall Street conference, an annual event sponsored by Deutsche Bank’s Women in Business. “I was in the green room greeting the day’s speakers, and as each woman entered, it became clear that they all knew each other,” Sandler says. “We had pulled the best of the best from across New York and they all knew each other either through past jobs, professional organizations, social events, what have you.” She considers this a good sign that women’s networks are taking hold and growing.

Often networking doesn’t come easily for some women. “Women are heads-down, get your work done, don’t open yourself up for criticism; while men tend to understand that you need to do good work, but also that you need to get out there and make sure people know about it,” observes Sandler, “And networking is one way to do that.” But it’s the women who think they can advance without networking that soon discover how imperative it is. “I think younger women are more aware of the importance of it,” Sandler says. “And that’s because company-sponsored women’s networks are trying to catch women at junior levels and really start cultivating them from day one.”

At Deutsche Bank, the women’s network is more than ten years old, assumed from Banker’s Trust when DB acquired that firm. A formal, voluntary organization supported by the company’s Diversity Office, the network holds monthly steering committee meetings and coordinates more than 20 events a year, including seminars, lunches, networking events, and the industry-wide conference.

How is the network making a difference in women’s investment banking careers? Deutsche Bank’s employee base is nearly 50% women, but that percentage drops as you move up the ranks. So the challenge is not in attracting more women to the industry, it’s in retaining and promoting them. “Money is a big motivator for people in investment banking, but for women, in general, money is not the only thing that matters,” says Sandler, “They are more motivated by positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment; and, unfortunately, investment banking is not the kind of place where you get a lot of pats on the back.”

Seminars and other events help women gain a better understanding of their own motivators and learn how to get what they need from their careers. They get to know their colleagues throughout the bank and across the industry and build bridges that will be vital to their continued success at Deutsche Bank. “I often tap the network when I’m looking to hire within my organization,” adds Sandler.

Through its women’s network, Deutsche Bank is taking an active role in helping to manage women’s careers. “It’s something we are constantly working on,” Sandler says. “It also involves making sure that women have access to the best technology so that they can do their jobs from anywhere, providing flexible arrangements, resetting client demands, and providing back-up childcare.”

Whether or not your company supports a formal network, women can help other women in many ways. Sandler remembers getting a lot of wisdom from the female role models she found throughout her career, and she repays them by passing on snippets of advice whenever she can. “Women need to find those opportunities, look for the words of wisdom and pass them on, package them off and give them as gifts.”

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