Last week was one of the most challenging of my life.


I had my mum come to stay with me. I know for some of you that may in itself be challenging but my mum has dementia and she also needs 24 hour care. 


It was a big one to take on.


So I needed some help. But I couldn’t fully rely on my husband as it just so happened that his ageing parents had their completion date come through and they were moving to our home town the same week.


But I didn’t panic. Why?


Because I knew I had my network to support me. Just one message went out asking for help and within seconds I had it covered. So while I didn’t have all the support I would have liked, I was able to ask my amazing school mum network to step in and help me manage the kids getting to school and back. It may sound small but it was such a big help as mum has trouble just walking. And it meant I could just focus on getting her needs seen to as a priority for the week with the kids slotting in.


You see the thing about networks is that you don’t know when you’re going to need them. But if you have put the time and effort into nurturing them and giving as much as you would like to receive from them, when the chips come down and you need them, you know they’re there.


They can be not only a huge comfort blanket but they can also be a great source of power. Something which Penny Mordaunt has found out since she launched her campaign a few weeks ago to be the next PM.


Now, until now, I’ve not really heard much about Penny. Apart from the fact that I don’t share her politics, she’s not really been much of a public tory figure. So I was wondering how she has managed to rally the support of so many of her tory peers so quickly. After reading this article though, I get it.


She’s good at networking.


And she’s been working on it for years. 20 apparently. At a grassroots level. She’s put the work in, she’s built strong, solid relationships not just in Westminster but nationwide and she’s used her Women2Win network to full effect. 


You see she knows that having a strong career network is vital if you want to achieve success at the highest levels. And she knows that being able to call on her network, at the drop of a hat will serve her well ( as she has served it well), when she needs it.


So to the outside world, her current rise in popularity may seem strange but to those on the inside I bet they know exactly what she’s about, what she stands for and how she does business because she’s made it her business to let them know.


And then look at how she’s conducting her leadership campaign.


She’s not trying to step on others, get into slanging matches or focus on damaging her opponents. She’s just getting on with showing how she plans to lead, seemingly with integrity, seemingly on her terms and seemingly as a woman, all with support of plenty of backers behind her.  She hasn’t had to about turn, change who she is overnight to fit in to suddenly be seen as leadership material. She’s been quietly evolving into her own version of leadership for the last 20 years, so she’s confident enough in her own value and the understanding that others value her style of leadership too.


It’s pretty impressive, no matter what your politics are.


So how is your network looking?


For us to fully thrive we need to be connected to others. You may have heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” well the same principle applies to raising a leader, rising star or someone bringing their A Game to their career. You can’t do it alone, and you need your network to work for you in all areas of your life.


Women can so often overlook the power of the network at work. We can be pretty good at pulling together support structures in other areas of our lives such as family and community, but we can sometimes forget that we need them in our career too. All too often the women I work with believe that hard work alone will get them recognised and enable them to navigate the challenges that careers can bring. But ability and hard work only get us so far. As Penny Mordaunt clearly demonstrates, building a network takes time and effort and at certain points in our careers can be the thing we need most to get to the next level.


We need to nurture it, guide it and evolve it, like any good relationship and when it doesn’t quite work for us we need to tweak it, add to it to focus less on those elements that aren’t working for us. And for that to happen we need to get strategic about it.


So how do you go about building your network?


Well for me you need to look at it holistically and you need to look at the big picture. So, for example, In order to be able to find the space and time at work to be more strategic with your networks at work you may need to be firing on all cylinders. If you’re coming into work already feeling exhausted by the sheer amount you’ve had to do just to get there then your primary network needs to be built around home life first to ensure you have energy to do the day job.


So let’s assume that’s working for you. How do you then start to build a network for your career?


That may involve a bit more of a strategy. You may or may not have come across the concept of a Personal Board. A group of people who you rely on for advice, connections, feedback and overall support. As a network they not only guide and support you, but they challenge you and give you real, unfiltered feedback. Some may be colleagues, but others may not. Some may be career focused while others may inhabit some of your other worlds. It doesn’t really matter who they are exactly, just that they give you what you need in order to help you get to where you want to go.


Some career experts will name them, with names given to them associated with their roles such as connector, mentor, sponsor, but in reality the people on your personal board don’t need to have any special names at all. You just need to know what they mean to you and what they give you.


So as an idea they could be:


  • Your line manager 
  • A peer who is in your industry 
  • A person who is the next level up in your organisation
  • Someone who’s career you admire
  • A person who admires your work
  • Someone who heads up a department who you work closely with
  • A person who knows you really well, perhaps as a friend


Their role is to:


  • Give you feedback on opportunities that present themselves to you
  • Help you to assess your strengths 
  • Act as a sounding board to remind you of your values and goals
  • Encourage you to move in the right direction
  • To be honest with you


You may find that you consult some more than others but in order to get the best from them you need to continually nurture the members of your board, make space for them to be present for you and to give back to them as they may require too.


So here’s a quick test so you can work out who may already be on your own personal board (and as a result who you may need to put on there).


  1. Who would you go to talk to about a tricky situation with one of your colleagues?
  2. Who could guide you about next career steps?
  3. Who would be able to put you in touch with an expert in your industry?
  4. Who would give you an honest assessment of your chances of getting that next level role you’re after?
  5. Who would be able to give you an idea of what that next role may look like?


When you’ve identified who you have and who you need on your Personal Board, do make sure you use them. It’s no use spending time nurturing, connecting and supporting them if you never call on them to help you at the time when you need them. You won’t get extra credit for achieving your dreams alone but you may get a whole heap of stress, tears and mistakes if you choose the hard the solitary path to greatness. Plus, when you get there, who are you going to celebrate with?


So many women are natural connectors, it’s one of the things so many of us do naturally, so don’t forget that when it comes to playing to those strengths in your career. Utilise all of your skillset, not just the ones you need to perform your role. Your career is bigger than your job and your network allows you to grow bigger with it.


Jo Oogarah

Career Empowerment Coach

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