Written by Megan Smith
Artwork by Janet Hill
Purely out of curiosity and on her own dime, New York Times writer Pamela Ryckman flew to Silicon Valley in 2010 where fifty of the nation’s most recognized, influential businesswomen were uniting at the Alley to the Valley Summit.
For this financial services expert turned journalist, the trip would become a series of ah-ha moments and revelations that would not only re-define Pamela’s view of the modern businesswoman, but build a platform for her to share with the world how the culture for women in business has undoubtedly shifted. “What surprised me most was that the room was full of powerhouse women who looked like women! They were feminine and fashionable. They wore stiletto heels and talked about healthy hair. They defied the stereotype of strong women in business. They were unabashedly women.”
Spend five minutes with Pamela, and the way you perceive the word ‘networking’ will forever be transformed. When she speaks about the connecting power of women, each word packs channeled energy and focused passion. It’s utterly contagious. Which is a beautiful thing, because, without a doubt, this ‘love story’ of women doing what women have always done—bonding together, from Girl Scouts to carpool to the PTA—is finally re-designing the corporate ladder. In fact, that steep corporate ladder is looking a lot more like a swinging bridge ropes course these days: tightly netted cords and knots interweaving and intersecting to make navigating the business world adventurous and experiential.
With a listening ear and a journalistic thirst, Pamela discovered much more than topics of social change, corporate philanthropy, politics and gender issues were being discussed in Silicon Valley that week. It was the side conversations these women were having about their networking dinner groups that perked her ears. Nearly all, with career experience unheard of in their mothers’ era, were connecting deeply with other women on a regular basis through the most basic ritual known to humankind: a meal. Pamela was captivated. She probed further, needing to know more. What she found over the course of several months after the Summit, through dozens of consequent interviews, phone calls and travels, was that these networks are emerging everywhere. Women from coast to coast are coming alongside each other, propelling one another forward and finding likeminded camaraderie across industry lines. Women with smarts, style and, of course, a dazzling pair of stilettos.
In May 2013, her book, Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business, launched with a hefty stream of press and buzz leading the way. “While researching for the book, I innately felt I was onto something.” She likens the experience to a starburst effect with leads and connections rapidly turning her ideas and hunches into a 100-page manuscript. Having personally reaped the benefits of this ‘stiletto network,’ Pamela attributes its power to two things: evolution and revolution. “For the first time in history, women have self-made wealth and are opening up their rolodexes to help other women. They’re taking risks for each other, which never would have happened 20 or more years ago when there was just one seat in the boardroom for a lady, and each was vying for it.” In terms of revolution, Pamela sees firsthand how technology is transforming the unifying power of women in the workplace. “Women have always been relationship maintainers. We are the ones carrying the family ties. These skills that have been honed for generations are now infiltrating the online world and connecting women across a multitude of fields.”
There’s something in Pamela’s voice when she speaks about this subject that indicates she’s only caught a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg. “The book proves the power of its thesis. Women connect, get behind each other and propel one another forward. You don’t have to be isolated in your work. Pick up your head and let someone provide the spark to move you forward.”
Pamela’s career journey itself also proves the power of her thesis. After years in the finance world, consulting and working for companies like Goldman Sachs, she had her ‘come to Jesus’ moment while pregnant with her first son. For as long as she could remember, she wanted to be a writer. Taking the leap, she went back to grad school to study journalism and became “the oldest pregnant intern at the NY Sun.” Her own struggle moving through a maze of competitors in a teeming publishing industry testified to the results of women going to bat for one another. “I was in a new industry trying to navigate my way into a career, with kids. It ended up that every opportunity I got came through a woman. They were the ones who could think outside the box with me and see me as a viable candidate.”
Don’t for one second question Pamela’s ability to balance life as a wife, mom of three young boys, freelance writer and book author…she’ll quickly nip that in the bud. She resolutely chooses to follow passion, not balance, in all areas of her life. She’s equally as passionate about lunch dates with her young boys at the local diner as she is about discovering those idiosyncrasies that make women unite. “I love learning what holds these women’s groups together because at the end of the day, it’s all about friendships. It’s organic and fluid. That’s the glue.”