Weaving an Old-Girls Network

Many [top women's professional] groups only allow entrance to women who have already succeeded. A form of old-girls network. In order for women to really build powerful networks, they need to work together to increase the aggregate number of women who reach the top to join these organizations, and not just bond with those who are already there. What about organizations for younger up-and-coming women which will assist us in reaching the top levels [of management]? -- E-mail from Anne Patel, corporate finance manager at a large energy company

Anne Patel, meet Janet Hanson. She may be able to help you. Hanson, who runs her own money-management firm, Milestone Capital Management in Yonkers, N.Y., is the founder of the global network of 1,100 current and former Goldman Sachs women employees called 85 Broads (a reference to Goldman's Manhattan address at 85 Broad Street).

Hanson has received thousands of requests from women such as Patel who wanted to join 85 Broads but can't because they aren't Goldman-affiliated. "There is a huge demand and need for these networks," says Hanson. "Whether women are working or taking time off, they need to be able to connect with other successful women who have gone before them."

So in early July, Hanson and her husband, Jeff, plan to launch two Web sites, Broads & Wall (www.broadsandwall.com) for women in the financial services industry, and Broads & Main (www.broadsandmain.com) for women who work in large corporations. The Web sites are not networks in themselves, but they provide the software tools for women to develop their own. A third site, Broads & Co., for women entrepreneurs, is on the drawing board.

Women who want to launch their own networks use the "Broads" platforms at no cost. But the Hansons have a business plan here. They sell their consulting services to companies that are interested in developing a custom-made online program for current or former women employees.

While she created 85 Broads independently of Goldman, Hanson is convinced that companies will see the strategic business value of fostering professional women/alumnae networks. Most women's networks restrict membership to those currently employed. McKinsey is one of a few that welcome ex-employees, and Ernst & Young will soon open a women's network to former staffers as well.

Hanson is talking up the benefits of reaching out to alumnae. This, she argues, is just good business. "Corporate alumnae go off, do other things, and can become the company's next client," she says. It's no different than why colleges reach out to alumnae--it generates revenues.

PROFILE. Of course it also helps to encourage women at all levels of the corporation. Hanson says there aren't enough female role models to go around. "How many women need the [mentoring] time of the three top women at each company?" she asks. The cybernetworking seeks to address this problem by leveraging the time and expertise of the mentors.

With an interactive Web-based network, women in far-flung locations can still keep in touch and tap the advice of many other women, not just the few at the top. Says Hanson: "The network becomes the role model and the mentor." Each member posts a personal profile into a database that other members can search by employer, location, or education. If you're new at a company, such a network would make it easier to connect with other women who can help you learn the ropes. Says Brigid Doherty, a former Goldman analyst turned management consultant: "At a networking event, I was able to ask critical career questions which might have otherwise gone unanswered."

Of course, Hanson can only provide the tools. For a network to be effective, someone needs to take the initiative and act as its champion. Anne Patel, you know what to do.

To join a discussion in our forum, see hers.online at www.businessweek.com/investor/

By Toddi Gutner

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.