How to Build a Meaningful Network as a Minority in Tech

April 6, 2020

“Everyone has a few colleagues they always want to work with. Think about what makes them special and become them.” 

This advice was given to Ying Zhe at Discover Financial Services early in the director’s career. After 18 years at the company, she’s become more than a colleague: she’s a mentor now, too.  

After helping launch the internal networking group Professional Women Impact Results at Discover, Zhe was able to connect with other women in the workplace. From there, she signed up to be a mentor for other women starting their careers. Not only does Zhe pass on  wisdom, she also gains fresh perspectives through the organization.

Having internal diversity networks means employees don’t have to look far in order to feel included. D&I initiatives benefit the business, too. Organizations with above-average diversity and employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 52 percent, according to a report by Fast Company. 

But don’t be discouraged if your company doesn’t have a group that fits your needs; this could be an opportunity for employees to form a new one. Qwill Duvall, software engineer at Enova, created a Slack channel that led to a Pride affinity group. 

“I’ve been able to make peer and mentor connections that give me support with a specific understanding of my background,” Duvall said.

 

Qwill Duvall
Software Engineer II

For  Duvall, celebrating identity started with a Slack channel. After creating a hashtag for Pride at work, a monthly luncheon was born and then came the official PRIDE @ Enova affinity group. Outside of work, Duvall said events like conferences and online communities are great places to find subgroups and connect.

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you've participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

There have been a couple of groups where I feel welcomed and where I make connections that last longer than the event in question, such as Trans Tech Social and Lesbians Who Tech. What these groups have in common is a large diversity of identities and backgrounds represented. 

At Lesbians Who Tech and Trans Tech Social, people generally have a better understanding of what my experiences have been both professionally and in my personal life. Where members don’t share my identity, they have a greater understanding of what it means to be an ally and a desire to learn. The connections and mentors I find through these environments help me grow in my career and build friendships.  

Anyone can start or join an affinity group, or attend events to learn more about our diverse workforce.”

 

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand or share your experiences?

At Enova, a Slack channel led to a meeting for monthly lunches, which led to forming the Pride @ Enova affinity group last year. 

I’ve been able to make peer and mentor connections that give me support with a specific understanding of my background. We are also working to make Enova an even more supportive and inclusive place to work. Anyone can start or join an affinity group, or attend one of the many events to learn more about our diverse workforce. For example, I had a great time participating in the South Asians @ Enova Diwali dance last year.  

Similarly, at other events such as conferences or in online communities, there are usually specific spaces for various subgroups. If I find those groups, I am able to connect with people who share and understand my experiences or who want to learn more about my work. 

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

When I’ve connected with someone that I’m hoping to maintain a long and meaningful relationship with, I try to reach out to them soon after our interaction. It depends on whether it is a local event or not, but that might look like an email, a private message on a social network, or even getting together for lunch. I also try to connect with them again and check in at the same events where I initially met them. As I get to know them better, I make plans to meet up with them and connect both at those events and outside. These relationships can become professional mentors, peers or friends. I think all are important for supporting a healthy career, especially as a person with an underrepresented identity. 

 

Ying Zhe
Director Application Development, Business Technology

Zhe didn’t have to search far to find networking opportunities at Discover. She became involved in the Professional Women Impact Results (PWIR) group when it first launched, which allowed her to connect and reconnect with women in the office she didn’t have a chance to see everyday. After signing up as a mentor, she now helps other women navigate the workplace.

 

What are some networking groups, events or organizations you've participated in that have helped you build a meaningful professional network? 

I was involved with PWIR very early on when it first launched at Discover, and the internal networking group helped me connect and reconnect with people that I don’t work directly with. I haven’t been as active in this group due to other commitments, but I stay connected with some of the connections I established. Through this networking group, I signed up as a mentor to other young women who have just started their careers, and I’ve learned a lot from them and gained fresh perspectives that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

I was fortunate enough to be selected for a Women In Leadership (WIL) program where a cohort of women leaders share career insights and life experiences. I stayed close with some of them and continue to share learnings and get their advice.

 

What other strategies do you have for connecting with professionals who understand or share your experiences?

All of my most meaningful connections are with people who I have worked for or worked with inside or outside of Discover. I had the opportunity to work on some very challenging projects and have formed strong bonds with people along the way. Some have become my mentors and close friends who I count on for advice. 

A mentor told me very early on in my career, “Everyone has a few colleagues they always want to work with. Think about what makes them special and become them.” I took this advice to heart.  

I’m very passionate about my vision and will not stop until I achieve it. Sometimes this can create friction with people who don’t share my vision. I’ve learned to have empathy and try to put myself in their positions to understand our differences and resolve any friction.  

I don’t believe you need a lot of connections to build meaningful relationships.”

 

How do you establish meaningful, long-term relationships with people once you've connected with them? 

With the rise of LinkedIn and other professional networking tools, people have become “networking obsessed” and professional relationships have become less and less meaningful. I don’t believe you need a lot of connections to build meaningful relationships; all you need is a close circle of trusted advisors you can turn to as a sounding board when you need it. 

I have two colleagues at Discover who are my mentors and advisors. I schedule lunch or dinner every once a while, or just pop into their offices to stay connected. I also have a mentor outside of Discover who I call regularly to catch up. Our conversations are not always work-related, and we’ll talk about our kids, families and social events. Whenever I feel stuck career-wise or need advice on how to manage a challenging situation, I can always turn to either one of them for insight.

 

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