Bringing a +1 to a networking event

Last night I was invited to a women’s empowerment and advocacy event in NYC. Like most evening events, this one started off following a familiar script: Wine, conversations, and introductions. But one noticeable thing was different: All invitees needed to bring another woman as their +1.

Part of the Time’s Up movement, one of the recent realizations among women rising in the ranks across many industries is that it can be incredibly hard to “break through.” Without access to sponsorship or direct personal advocacy, the barrier to entering a certain field or domain can feel impossible or insurmountable.

The goal of the +1 initiative is to invite women who would otherwise not have been invited to attend. Women for whom the event may not otherwise be anywhere on their radar. By inviting women 5–10 years younger, you accelerate their exposure to unlock a new level in their careers. I think it’s a brilliant idea and wish it had been a thing when I was 22 years old.

Last night, my +1 was a recent graduate that I got to know over the summer. Throughout all of our interactions together, she asked excellent questions and approached each day with poise and a passion for self-improvement.

We had never attended an event like this together before, so it was new for me too. Before we entered, we had a strategy session.

“What are you hoping to get out of this today?” I asked her.

“I hope to learn how to network better and ask people what advice they would have for me.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Another thing I think would be interesting might be to ask people about their career paths. Maybe we can learn how people found jobs and navigated changes over time. And remind me what kind of jobs you’re looking for?”

“Data analytics,” she replied.

“Fantastic. Let’s go.”

We walked into one of those quintessential SoHo lofts that you only see on TV. In fact, up until that moment, I had only seen them on TV too. I quickly level set with my +1: “Okay, just so you know, this is not the usual type of networking that I do. This is an interesting and new environment even for me. Let’s go around together and learn who’s here. Deal?”

The next two hours morphed into an incredible real-life playground for networking in practice. While I’ve only done it a few times, one of my favorite parts about any type of job shadowing program is the opportunity to “pause” and discuss what’s happening in real time with someone else who often brings a totally new perspective.

With each new conversation, we would discuss our intent ahead of time, then dive in and debrief after. Things like, “I know this person, so let’s be sure to say hi” or “I’m pretty sure that person knows someone I work with, so let’s say hi — but in a different way.” We strategized entry points to penetrate social circles and alternated which of us would strike up the conversation first.

After a few conversations, my +1 astutely observed that the conversation topics were quite different from what she had seen at other tech industry or recruiting events. And she was totally right. The crowd was certainly more fashion-forward, with media and entertainment professionals aplenty. As a result, the topics of conversation had a broader range from the world of technology, startups, and software engineering.

We discussed different ways that you might approach finding common ground based on what you know about each person. I also acknowledged that I tend to introduce myself and what I do differently based on the group of people that I’m speaking with.

In the end, my +1 came away with 3 or 4 different people to email with follow-up conversations or job leads. And I got to experience not only the joy of inviting somebody else into my world but also to practice turning something I do every day (network with new people) into a small framework to teach it to someone else.

I’m excited to see more opportunities like this emerge in the months ahead and hope you consider bringing a +1 with you to your next networking event — whether it’s structured deliberately as one or not.