How to Build a Meaningful Network in Tech

April 20, 2020

When Veronica Cuello, a manager at Vistaprint, joined her first internal women in tech group, she had one thought: she wished she’d done it sooner.

“The value of these groups is to understand that others are sharing your experiences,” Cuello said. “You can learn from them and they can learn from you, and that feeling is very empowering.”

Having internal D&I groups means employees don’t have to look far in order to grow their networks and feel included. These initiatives benefit the company, too. Organizations with above-average diversity and employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 52 percent, according to a report by Fast Company.

But don’t be discouraged if your company doesn’t have a group that fits your needs: Searching for events on platforms like LinkedIn, WeWork and Built In can open many doors. After making an online connection, however, Roya Zarrin, a manager at Funnel, said it’s important to follow up with a coffee date, either in-person or virtually.

“The key is being thoughtful, considerate and making a point to continuously engage,” Zarrin said.

 

Veronica Cuello
Manager, Technology 

Through Vistaprint’s internal mentorship program, Cuello found a supportive community where authentic relationships were created and nurtured, and both mentors and mentees found growth. One piece of advice to fellow tech professionals? Don’t be afraid to look for mentors outside of your “usual” network, Cuello said. 

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you've participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

When I joined Vistaprint, I was surprised to see what the “should be” actually looks like in action. Since day one, my managers and peers were welcoming and understanding of who I am. I was able to bring my whole self to work. I joined my first D&I groups, like women in tech, and the experience made me wish I did  sooner. 

The value of these groups is to understand that others share your experiences. You can learn from other participants and they can learn from you, and that feeling is very empowering. We still have a long road ahead of us to be as diverse and inclusive as we want to be, but we are collectively working to get there.  

 

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand and share your experiences?

To find those that share your experiences and can help you grow, you need to be open to being vulnerable and express exactly what you need. Find a mentor or coach that can be a thought partner with skills and experiences that align with your own. Practice articulating the challenges you are facing to help them empathize with you.

Second, trust your gut. You often know when you have a strong connection with a peer or manager. Foster those relationships. Be willing to be surprised, too, and look for mentors outside of your “usual” network.

Third, help others. Diversity has many faces. Anyone can, at some level, relate to you. Pay it forward by investing in your colleagues and elevating them to succeed, and understand how their journey connects to yours. At the end of the day, your colleagues are on your team. Their success is your success. Don’t be afraid to invest in theirs.

At Vistaprint, we have very strong mentoring practices that have institutionalized how we support each other. We are proud of how mentorships help both the mentees and mentors grow. Use the mentorships at your company as a benefit to enable your own professional growth.

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

Be transparent and clear about what you want from the relationship and how much you are willing to invest. If you are mindful of your time and the time of others, that creates an atmosphere of mutual respect. These actions invite others to reciprocate.

 

Roya Zarrin
Manager, Customer Success

Zarrin has found networking opportunities by joining women’s leadership forums and diversity councils. After making a connection, she follows up with a coffee date, whether in-person or virtual. After connecting, she makes a point to continuously engage.

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you've participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

Throughout my professional career, I have joined organizations that promote minority groups and personal growth. I have participated previously in a women’s leadership forum, which was an excellent networking group that brought like-minded women together for special events and guest speakers. I also was a representative of the diversity council, similarly, hosting events to celebrate and promote diversity in the workplace. Lastly, I utilized Toastmasters to refine my communication and public speaking skills coupled with leadership.

The Women’s Leadership Forum and Diversity Council are different from other organizations, like Toastmasters, in that they are focused on promoting and celebrating often underrepresented groups. These groups help cultivate pride and a strong sense of community. When combining the diverse experiences each group has brought me, they’ve helped make me a much more multi-dimensional person and I have been able to relate to a broader audience.

 

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand and share your experiences?

Other than joining like-minded groups inside your organization, there are also many national and industry-specific opportunities to participate in. I have found these types of events through my professional network, such as an event promoted on LinkedIn and communities such as WeWork and Built In Boston. These sub-communities do an excellent job of promoting events and making them accessible. 

Lastly, recruiting is a simple and controllable way to connect with colleagues who have similar experiences. We have worked hard to utilize inclusive terminology in our job descriptions and ensure that our hiring criteria does not factor in things such as age, race, gender or religion.

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

Once I have connected with someone, it’s important to set aside time and effort to foster these relationships if I want them to continue. An easy way is a LinkedIn connection and casual interactions such as grabbing a coffee together, in person or virtually. The key is being thoughtful, considerate and making a point to continuously engage.

 

Kiera Penpeci
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Business Partner

Kiera Penpeci is a diversity, equity and inclusion business partner at Drift, where she identifies with multiple underrepresented groups. When attending events, she looks for experiences to grow professionally or personally and opportunities to help underrepresented people do the same. 

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you've participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

I was privileged enough to join the Boston chapter of The Wing to expand both my professional and personal network. There are womxn from various industries and many founders. My experience has exceeded expectations as I’ve been able to make some of the best friends of my life, join events specific to women of color, meet new people every time I attend their weekly events and have had multiple interactions sharing and receiving advice from members. 

In addition, I recently joined the advisory board for Girls in Tech, Boston chapter. I got connected with this organization during a work meeting, and it’s been a great opportunity to expand my network with other professional womxn looking to advance womxn in tech. In my role as outreach manager, I network with potential company partners who have a similar mission and get the added benefit of sharpening my project management skills and learning the operations of a high-functioning working committee.

I’ve also attended LGBTQ+ focused events hosted by Out in Tech and Lesbians Who Tech. These are sometimes just casual meetups though others are focused on topics I’m passionate about, like diversity, equity and inclusion. There is always a great mix of like-minded or refreshingly interesting people who work in tech. The sense of community at these events is palpable, so I always feel like I fit right in. 

 

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand and share your experiences?

I am much more than just a black womxn. As a person who identifies with multiple underrepresented groups and has multiple passions and interests, I think about the intersection of all of my identities when I think about my advancement. So when I enter new spaces, I’m intentional about making sure they will lead to experiences that will help me grow either personally or professionally or that will help other underrepresented people do the same. For that reason, I can still be fulfilled in spaces where people don’t look like me because it means I’m helping to advance us.

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

There’s usually this unspoken connection that I have with other womxn of color in tech that I come across, and it’s the safest space. There aren’t many of us, but I don’t think I’ve ever met another womxn of color I didn’t exchange information with after a networking event. We don’t speak all the time, but we’re in the background elevating each other: inviting each other to speak on panels, resharing each other’s posts, coming to each other’s events. We elevate each other by helping each other be seen, and making sure that we know that we see each other.

 

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