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You don’t need to play golf to be a good networker

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You need to learn to play golf to be successful.

That was one of the first pieces of advice I received shortly after entering the workforce.

It was meant as advice for how to get ahead in my career. I should learn to play golf so that I can be included in important decisions made outside of the office. It was a chance at getting to know my manager or other decision makers enough to be considered for important projects or promotions, to be “visible.”

While the advice may have been well-intentioned, playing golf was positioned as a tool to blend in with the traditional work environment, as opposed to bringing my authentic self and interests to work.

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My career path in finance began as an analyst in the services industry, then took a turn into the manufacturing industry before landing in a quantitative area of banking. I was fortunate to join the workforce at a time when analytical jobs were in demand.

Today, data analytics is growing at an exponential rate, and companies need a workforce skilled in analytics to remain competitive. While certain challenges still exist for women navigating the workforce, a few factors are on our side:

Companies are vying for top quantitative talent while women are receiving advanced degrees at increasing rates. And companies are becoming more inclusive, both by choice and necessity. For young female professionals, the time has never been better to take charge of crafting their career in their own unique way.

While I never did learn to play golf, purposeful networking has been instrumental in my career development. Today, some aspects of networking remain inherently exclusive as many career development opportunities occur at happy hours or other offsite events.

Sometimes, women are not always able to attend these events as often as men can.
However, women can participate in and lead effective and enjoyable networking events to help them take charge of their own development.

For example, the Regions Bank’s model risk management team created a monthly women-focused networking event where a female leader discusses career development for an hour with a group. The event helps female associates get to know other areas of the bank, and to promote themselves and create career-building conversations.

Volunteering to host lunch-and-learns, summits and leading training programs are some other ideas to plug into associate-led networking.

One of the most important first steps to developing a fulfilling career is defining the things that matter most to you. The answer is different for everyone and can also change over time.

This can include a certain work lifestyle: the ability to work remotely, within a satellite office or tailored hours. It can also be based on the availability of resources needed to grow a desired skillset, exposure to key decision makers, participation in interesting projects or incorporating a passion for community service.

It’s important for both women and men to craft professional goals that integrate their strengths, motivations and passions into a fulfilling and rewarding career. For me, this has been through continuous learning; though the ability to freely work from home as needed is a close second.

I actively seek out projects that challenge me, introduce me to a new skillset as well as different areas of the bank.

For example, I am currently in an associate-led analytics institute at Regions which teaches important emerging analytical tools such as Python programming language.

Advanced training such as this will enhance employees’ analytical skills so they can apply it to solving challenges for an organization.

Another critical tool in career development is evaluating the different cultures that exist within the organization. Culture is extremely important.

A team may promise to be progressive and development-focused, but without a supportive culture, it cannot execute on these promises. A team environment resistant to change is not only a career trajectory crusher, particularly for female associates, it’s also counterproductive to the rapidly evolving workforce.

To avoid landing in an ill-fitted work environment, women can search for teams that sponsor development, provide flexibility and empower individuals to incorporate their passions outside the workplace.

Though it may be counterintuitive, it’s crucial to ask transparent and practical questions of the potential hiring manager like:

“How will this role help me to integrate my work and life?”
“How will this role position me to achieve my career and/or specific life goals?”

It is best to ask these questions in the evaluation phase, months or years ahead of a transition.

As demand increases for women in quantitative roles, it’s a great time for them to craft careers in their own unique ways. They can be selective in the roles or projects they choose; to elevate their careers through networking; and to influence a desirable workplace culture, making it more rewarding for all employees.

Kate Laminack's BankThink post is part of our annual Women in Banking series. Others in the series include the OCC's Maryann Kennedy, the FDIC's Aleas Upton Kea, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat, and Howard Bank Chairman and CEO Mary Ann Scully.

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