Women are being stingy, and it’s killing our professional networks

“You have to find the men in tech with daughters,” she said. “The women won’t help you. I hate to say it, but it’s true.”

My company is all about creating better media for girls (when I say “better”, I mean better than Barbie and the Power Puff Girls.). You’d think women, in particular, moms, would be on the front lines, spreading the word about how to get their girls excited about something other than their looks.

But in my heart I knew my colleague was right. Women will help you one another as friends, as moms, as sports buddies. But they haven’t yet figured out how to help one another out professionally, and they wonder why the “Old Boys’ Network” is so strong.

I’ll tell you why. I have the fancy MBA to qualify me for the Old Boys’ Network, and I’ve got the anatomy to qualify me for the Sisterhood, and I’ve been observing carefully. The Old Boy’s Network is financially and politically stronger than the Sisterhood because of one word:

Yes.

You see, women aren’t deliberately being stingy, they just haven’t figured out the power of saying yes to every professional request they possibly can.

Instead, women tend to consider the request. I’m sure each woman has different considerations, like do I know this person well enough, does this align with my professional trajectory, or whatever. But they consider it.

Men just say yes. Could you tweet this out for me? Yes. Can you introduce me to so-and-so? Yes. Can we meet for coffee? Yes. Can I use your name as a reference? Yes. Would you like me to guest blog for you? Yes.

Obviously, there’s a limit to how much you can say yes to everything, particularly when you get very successful. Still, I’ve gotten yeses from Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver), Gene Yang (@geneluenyang), Vik Wadhwa (@wadhwa), and Hillel Fuld (@HilzFuld), based on cold emails, or emails from some distant male colleague who said yes when I asked for an introduction. If the request is specific and easy, you can get a yes. At a physical meeting, Jeff even gave me a “yes, and…”. Not only did he post on his FB page, he threw in a couple of bucks for a FB paid promotion of the post. Wow. Sometimes I just check his blog to see what he’s doing and tweet it to my network, because he’s just been so awesome with me.

For contrast, I’ve been doing some pro-bono work a women’s group who shall remain nameless. Recently, I asked them to tweet something on their network, and after a week of considerations, they told me it was a marketing request, and that if I bought a $1500 advertising package, they’d be happy to include some tweets on their network.

Firstly, I want to congratulate them. I mean, I don’t know anyone else in the geek sisterhood who is charging more than $150 for guest blogs or banner ads, and most of us are charging nothing. So good on them that they’re charging 10–20x what everybody else is making (for about double exposure, based on my research.)

On the other hand, really? I’ve paid for your services, volunteered for you, etc. The content I’m asking you to tweet is valuable to your network. So you are not only depriving a sister of a helping hand, you are depriving your network of interesting content because it’s not paid.

So, yes. That’s a shocking contrast to Gene Yang, the US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, who I’ve never met. He got back to me by mail in a few days, apologized for the delay, and gave me some specific and helpful answers to my questions. Now, I’m not saying many women aren’t doing this. I’ve gotten great treatment from many women, notably Linda Liukas (@lindaliukas), Shira Abel (@shiraabel) Brenda Laurel (@blaurel), but percentage wise, I’m much likelier to get a yes from a man for my uber-feminist requests.

What you put out in the world comes back. And the culture we are creating as a sisterhood needs to shift. Yes needs to be the default.

Say yes.

If you aren’t helping a sister (and a brother), you are diminishing the karma pool. At every opportunity, you want to grow the karma pool. You can grow it by saying yes. You can grow it by making a request. As Guy Kawasaki points out, in fact, you need to make requests because being overly generous puts the karma pool out of balance.

And the more you say yes to others, the easier it will be to make requests.

The other observation I’ve made on the Old Boys’ Network is that there isn’t a prerequisite for asking. You don’t have to have stayed in touch with someone. You don’t have to know someone who knows someone. You don’t have to give something in return (as long as you contribute when you can). You don’t have to schmooze a certain amount of time before you ask for what you want.

All you need to do is ask directly for what you want So here are my new rules for the Sisterhood.

  1. When you want something, ask.
  2. When anyone makes a professional request of you, say yes.
  3. When you arbitrarily think of something that could help someone, offer it.

It’s that simple. Power and wealth are not zero-sum games. Every time we say yes, we expand the market. Every time we ask for something, we provide a new opportunity for growth.

3-minute challenge: Think of someone you know who is trying to grow a business. Share their business on your social media accounts, and write in the comments below about that business, with a link others can share. If you have a business, add that to the comments so you’ll be receiving as well as giving.

Extra credit: Look below at the comments, and share one or more of these businesses on your social network.

The karma pool just expanded.