How Powerful Women’s Groups Are Changing the World

Pamela Ryckman on being the pregnant intern, taking research calls in bathroom, choosing passion over balance, and how women are helping each other in the workplace like never before

Pamela-Ryckman_About-370x441WHO SHE IS: Pamela Ryckman, Author of “Stiletto Network” and freelance journalist (The New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times)

SUCCESS STORY: Turned two eye-opening articles about the power of women’s networks into the “Stiletto Network,” a book chronicling billions of dollars in economic output thanks to small, all-women dinner groups across the country.

SCHEDULE: While my kids are at school and again after I’ve put them to bed

KIDS: Boys, ages 9, 7, and 4

SANITY VICE: Sauvignon blanc

From investment banking to journalism – a journey with kids

In college I majored in Comparative Literature and writing was always my first love. Still, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or how I would support myself, so I was thrilled when I got an offer from a management consulting firm. I worked in management consulting for three years, then worked for two investment banks doing internal strategy for their equities divisions.

“When I’m doing interviews, I’m often hiding in my bedroom — sometimes in my bathroom, barricaded behind two sets of doors, and sometimes while my toddler crashes his Big Wheel in the hall.”

I’m incredibly grateful for the training I received and I remain close with many former colleagues. I worked on challenging projects with exceptionally smart people, but ultimately it wasn’t for me. I was working 12- to 15-hour days until three days before I gave birth to my first son, and while the money was great, I just didn’t love the work enough. I also couldn’t imagine never seeing my son.

I’d applied to grad school in journalism while I was pregnant and started when he was 9 months old. Then I got pregnant again during grad school and went part-time.

My kids factor into every decision I make, personally and professionally. They’ve made me better at my job because I have to be that much more focused; I want the time I spend away from them to matter and I want them to be proud of me.

In starting over, I decided that it didn’t make sense to take an entry-level job in journalism that would pay less than I paid a nanny. It also wouldn’t be particularly interesting or make use of my skills. I was determined to freelance, which is hard if you don’t have relationships with editors or a history in the field.

I had to work really hard to break into journalism, and I had to start over with no ego. It’s not like the FT or New York Times called and said, “Hey, we need more stay-at-home moms writing for us.”  Before I landed there, I took any job someone would give me. I said yes to every meeting. I was an old, pregnant intern at the New York Sun. I was willing to do whatever I needed to do, as long as it allowed me to be the active, involved mom I want to be. That’s still true.

Stilette-Network_3D5 Questions for Pamela:

1. You have three boys. How did you find time to research and write this book?

I didn’t! I made time.

I didn’t plan to write a book at this moment in my life and I didn’t think I was ready, but I found a topic I couldn’t stop researching. I got obsessed.

In the book, one woman talks about choosing passion over balance, and this concept really makes sense to me. I think that when you find things you’re passionate about, they bleed into every area of life. When I started researching and doing interviews for this book, it didn’t feel like work. I was talking to interesting, inspiring women about their lives, and this was something I really enjoyed.

Because I was having fun, it wasn’t a stretch to take a call at 9 p.m. or read another four articles on the topic once my kids went to bed. No one was making me do it; I wanted to. I had 100 pages of single-spaced notes before I admitted to myself I was working on a book.

It was, for me, like having children.  As I’ve told my boys, it’s not like love is finite, something to be apportioned out in parts. It just grows. Somehow when you have another child, you just find you have more love than you imagined. And just when you didn’t think you had energy for anything else, you find more of that inside too. My book has definitely been like this — a fourth child. I loved this story, and it was something I wanted to pursue and nurture. My boys jokingly call it their sister, and I’ve shared so many of these stories with them too.

2. Do you work out of your house or an office? 

I work from an office in my apartment in Manhattan. It’s in a high-traffic area, right off the kitchen, which makes it very difficult for me to work when my boys are home. My older boys are going into 2nd and 4th grades, so they’re at school for longer periods, but my youngest son is still in pre-school, which means he’s out at noon.

When I need long stretches of time to think and write, I’ll go to cafe a few blocks from home. I can tune out ambient noise, but not the sound of my children.

When I’m doing interviews, I’m often hiding in my bedroom — sometimes in my bathroom, barricaded behind two sets of doors, and sometimes while my toddler crashes his Big Wheel in the hall. It’s not dignified, but somehow the work gets done!

I spend most afternoons with the boys, then go back to work once I’ve put them to bed.

Again, it’s not the easiest way to do things. Often I miss getting dressed up, going to an office with smart adults, and feeling like a professional. It’s hard not to have boundaries and to tailor my work schedule around my kids. But I wouldn’t change it. It gives me the flexibility I need to be the kind of mom I want to be. I don’t lose any time commuting and I’m able to spend lots of time with my boys.

3. Let’s talk about the book. What’s the main takeaway you want women to walk away with from reading Stiletto Network?

That women are working together to change the world. I have found an explosion of dinner groups and networking circles in every major city in the U.S. (and globally too). Most groups have no more than 10 women, but in aggregate they number in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of women nationwide. And I’ve charted billions of dollars of transactions, corporate board seats attained, and companies founded and funded — all as a result of these genuine female friendships. So I’m telling everyone it’s a love story disguised as a business story!

The next decade will see an explosion of female wealth and power, and yet this story isn’t confined to business. I’ve also charted unprecedented amounts of self-made women’s wealth channeled toward non-profits that benefit women and girls, and toward political candidates who represent our interests.

4. What do you think corporate America is missing about working moms?

Three things:

1) How hard we’re willing to work when we’re passionate about something.

2) How grateful we are when someone recognizes our talents and gives us flexibility, especially when it allows us to spend time with our kids at crucial moments (which also translates into more hard work, loyalty, and passion).

3) How spectacularly efficient we can be. Working moms cannot afford to waste time.

I worked harder on this book and its promotion than I’ve ever worked in my life — including my previous career management consulting and banking — and I didn’t need to be in an office to do so.

5. You mentioned that women in their 40s are leaving corporate America in the droves. Why?

Because corporate America isn’t keeping pace with women’s needs and women now see greater opportunities through entrepreneurship. Women today are starting companies at twice the rate of men. This is happening at all levels –with senior executives who have hit a glass ceiling and see they can do it better and more lucratively on their own; with women in their 40s who value flexibility and want to see their kids; and with aspiring Millennials launching what they hope will be high-growth tech-based businesses.

When women start their own companies, they tend to hire and promote other women at higher than average rates. So women in their 40s are either launching their own firms or joining firms headed by other women who recognize their talents and meet their needs.

See the Stiletto Network featured on the Today Show.

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