This article by AWE co-founder Karen Bate originally appeared in Entrepreneur.com.
For many women business owners, the term networking evokes a superficial, soulless exchange of cards that rarely leads to genuine new connections -- or business. Yet, being an entrepreneur can be lonely, and we all know getting out there is crucial to your company's growth and success.
This may explain why women-only networking is an increasingly appealing option and a growing trend. From The Wing, a high-end coworking space in New York and D.C., to the home-based Quilt in L.A., San Francisco and New York, female founders are finding their tribe, making authentic connections and discovering the power of #womensupportingwomen.
Here are the top five benefits of women-only networking:
Unlike at coed events where women project their Superwoman persona, female-only networking feels warm, welcoming and safe. Attendees share what it's really like to run your own business, the juggle and the struggle, including sick kids, more difficulty accessing capital and all the challenges we face. Being able to relax, let your hair down, say what you want unfiltered and share some laughs is undoubtedly a lot more fun.
Second only to feeling supported by like-minded women, members of women-only groups say the high level of quality referrals is the next biggest benefit. "I've used 14 members' services and recommended 20 members to clients that directly brought them new business," reports professional organizer C. Lee Cawley, a member of my organization, Awesome Women Entrepreneurs in Arlington, Va. "Women supporting women is the best way for all of us to grow and thrive."
According to a LinkedIn study, 82 percent of women surveyed believe having a mentor is important, yet one out of five reports lacking this experience. Boding well for the future, younger women are more likely to have received guidance and support from someone in their shoes: Just 34 percent of female boomers (45-66 years old) studied have had a woman mentor, while 51 percent of Gen Y (18-29) women have. At female-only networking events, attendees meet many seasoned, successful women ready and willing to help.
Women-only events make it easier to show up authentically; with others genuinely cheering you on, women report experiencing a real boost of confidence. "One attendee of our recent golf and networking weekend in Jekyll Island, Ga., shared that attending our events always leaves her feeling on top of the world," Tina Fox, chair of Women on Course, a national community built around lifestyle and work style events, told me. "It gives her a place to develop new skills while being fully accepted and supported by her tribe."
Hearing the amazing stories of challenges overcome and lessons learned from other successful entrepreneurs is a huge motivator. Many women-only groups have Mastermind or Accelerator programs as well, where small groups meet monthly to set goals and take their businesses to the next level.
As Alexa Carlin, founder of the Women Empower Expo, aptly puts it, #MeToo, #TimesUp, #NowWhat? In this national moment that has clearly identified serious, entrenched problems in relations between the sexes, what are the actions we can take to move the needle forward? Women-only networking appears to be one positive step in that direction.