Networking, Support & Connecting to Your Sisters on an Authentic Level: Helping Each Other Level Up

Kim Marmon

May 20, 2018

This post is as on ode to the women in the field wearing many hats who are looking to get “that thing back”. What is that “thing”?

Her joy and passion for the field when all of her hats get heavy and she needs to refill her tank.

This post is also an ode for the women that have left the field for various reasons and want to get back into it because they want to get “that thing back.”

It is about authentic relationships and finding safe opportunities to connect within the higher education sisterhood for networking, healing, and ultimately making the field better.

Typically when we think of people who may benefit from mentoring, our focus is on new professionals because we want to help prevent them from walking into certain pitfalls, and provide them with optimum professional navagation. It makes total sense.

But there is also a subgroup of seasoned professionals that have stepped away from the field for various reasons that could benefit from extra attention as they attempt to get re-engaged within academia. These professionals have been where we are, but they've had a break from the collegiate environment, which often provides a fresh perspective. I believe that mentorships and relationships amongst these women (returners) can happen on a deeper level, because they bring an awareness and understanding about the field's culture, as well as professional experiences from outside of our general area of expertise.

Authentic relationships happen when individuals are open to and desiring of an opportunity to share information, resources, and vulnerability. There are questions that you must ask yourself if you are going to intentionally reach out to returners to help them level up and come back into the fold.

First, you have to do a self check to see if your cup is full enough for you to be able to pour out from. Do you have expectations along with desired outcomes for yourself along with this other individual? Your time is precious and more than likely your commitments are many, therefore you have to ask yourself do you really have the time to lean in and invest in another person? To be truly present with them?

As a woman, you are more than likely seeking new ways to advance women within Higher Education. What better way to do that than through helping talented people who have had time to re-imagine ways to improve the student experience? Women returning to student affairs after time away also have a unique approach to their own professional experience. Sometimes, it takes being reminded of what you do have to make you value it even more. While on the flip side sometimes it is through the engagement and reflection of where you want to be that keeps you fighting to get back there, but with new vision.

Are you a woman considering returning to Higher Education after time away? The fact that you are still fighting to get back in to the field despite being away from it signifies that you are chasing your passion. It signifies that the time away was simply a detour that likely strengthened your skill set. This could be a prime example of the argument that absence does make the heart grow fonder.

If you are a woman currently outside of Higher Education, I encourage you to be proactive in seeking ways to stay connected to the field while you are interviewing and living life. If you are a woman returning to student affairs, or you’ve recently returned after time away for whatever reason, ask yourself some important questions: Who am I sharing my story with professionally? How can I pitch creative ways to highlight that I'm an asset? What kind of work did I do in my “off season” that makes me a dynamic subject matter expert in this field where my cross over knowledge gives me an edge? How vulnerable and willing to learn/share about my journey will I be in order to be sharper?

When seasoned women come together to unite in anything, there is power, wisdom, and healing that naturally occurs. They “see” each other in a unique way. Women on both sides of this spectrum have the potential to light a fire within, to fuel each other in a way that only having some semblance of a shared frame of knowledge or culture can provide. One only has to see that these women are there and be willing to engage them, to acknowledge the value add that these women can bring to a campus.

The question you might be asking is how do we bridge the gap and get women returning to Higher Education connected with those who’ve never left? I believe that this subgroup or returners could be it's own Knowledge Community. In essence, women returning to the field after time away are alumnae of the professional experience, who are wanting to get back in and stay connected.

Visibility is the first step. Seeking out ways for returning women to share stories and connect via social media platforms would be beneficial. It may be as simple as taking formal and informal assessments of how many women know a woman that falls into this ‘returner’ category. It is in asking ourselves who are the invisible populations that need an advocate and daring to create new ways to reach out to them.

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