How to Build a Meaningful Network as a Minority in Tech

April 16, 2020
Dave Inc. team member speaking on a panel
dave inc.

“The key to building meaningful relationships is to be your most authentic self,” Lauryn Nwankpa, head of social impact at Dave Inc., said. “Doing so requires being vulnerable, which can be scary, but it’s worth it.”

Authenticity can nudge a relationship beyond superficial or temporary territory. While participating in a fellowship, Nwankpa opened up and let her guard down with another member. They’re best friends now. 

Aldo Gomez, who works in HR at Medely, looks to his personal interests as a way to expand his network. He said volunteering or taking a class on a topic he’s interested in makes it easier for him to connect with individuals who share his passions. Similarly, Monica Groves, a manager at XPRIZE, is passionate about increasing opportunities in STEM for minorities, so she joined a dedicated local networking group.

Once initial connections are made, it’s important to maintain them. Practices as simple as following up, checking in and putting another hangout on the calendar help develop lasting relationships.

 

Lauryn Nwankpa
Head of Social Impact

Mentorship and being an advisor to startups have played significant roles in how Nwankpa broadened her professional network. Nwankpa said she was able to connect with like-minded individuals on subjects that were important to her, like working with the next generation of innovative thinkers.

 

What networking resources have you used that have helped you build a meaningful professional network?

I built the foundation of my professional network in LA through a series of referrals. Friends from organizations or fellowships I had been a part of — such as the New Leaders Council, the University of Chicago Black Alumni Association or StartingBloc — introduced me to other people they knew in LA. I wanted to be really intentional about fostering genuine friendships. So I reached out to people and suggested new areas of LA we could explore or a restaurant neither of us had been to. I quickly built a core group of people that, over time, continued to organically expand. 

I also went to events hosted by Valence or The 7xCollective. I knew no one, but was welcomed into a network of people who were cheerleaders for each other.

I wanted to be really intentional about fostering genuine friendships.”

 

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

Mentoring both individuals and startups, guest speaking and serving on boards are a few strategies that have been especially helpful for me. As a mentor, I’ve been able to work alongside other professionals helping aspiring game changers through programs like the Jackie Robinson Foundation, ScaleLA, LA Promise Fund and YearUp. 

I’ve also had opportunities to coach early-stage startups through my MBA program and the Bixel Exchange. Experiences like these build close bonds with advisees and they’re great opportunities to meet other like-minded professionals interested in giving back. 

Building my network through mentorship and advising startups has given me the opportunity to connect with different audiences on topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion, social impact and my personal experience as a black woman in tech. 

 

How do you establish long-term relationships with people once you’ve connected with them?

The key to building meaningful relationships is to be your most authentic self. Doing so requires being vulnerable, which can be scary but is incredibly worth it. Once in a fellowship program, I immediately clicked with a woman in our first ice-breaker exercise. We were both early in our careers at startups in LA. We bonded over our experiences being black women in mostly white spaces, our passion to create a more equitable world and our shared commitment to helping our communities thrive. 

Every day, we’d laugh and cry over pizza and wine, and vulnerably share our visions for the world. It was a no-brainer that we would keep in touch after the fellowship ended. We constantly check in on each other and cheer each other on and she’s now one of my best friends!

 

Aldo Gomez
Human Resources and Recruiting

It’s easy to make friends when you’re having fun. This philosophy is one Gomez embodied when he expanded his network by pursuing his personal interests. Sharing the same enthusiasm for a hobby like volunteering with someone else increases the potential for creating a lasting connection.

 

What networking resources have you used that have helped you build a meaningful professional network?

Some of the most meaningful and lasting connections I have made came from events I attended where my goal was to enjoy myself. Exploring a shared interest in a relaxed environment made me a lot more likely to follow up with the people I met, whether that be through a volunteer opportunity or a class I took to learn more about an outside interest. Then, I was able to develop some legitimate and lasting connections.

Long-term professional connections develop from regular maintenance.”

 

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

When the goal is to connect with people that understand your experiences, start with the people you already know. Engage personal friends that are active networkers. Get help from a manager or other colleagues at work to make connections. Reach out to a highly-regarded person in the office or the long-term employee you haven’t had a chance to collaborate with. It’s possible to create a workplace connection by volunteering to work on a cross-functional project or through something as informal as organizing an office happy hour. 

 

How do you establish long-term relationships with people once you’ve connected with them?

Long-term professional connections develop from regular maintenance, communication and generosity. A significant amount of jobs are found through networking. The more that relationships are invested in, the more a person can learn about their new connections. Then it will be easier to offer assistance, and potentially get it in return.

 

Related readingHow Los Angeles Tech Companies Are Supporting Their Communities

 

Monica Groves
Manager of Prize Operations

Attending an event geared toward a particular interest is an effective way to build new connections with like-minded professionals. Events are a significant part of how Groves engages with members of communities she’s passionate about, and she plans on attending — and facilitating — more in the future.

 

What networking resources have you used that have helped you build a meaningful professional network?

Last fall I attended AfroTech, the largest multicultural tech conference in the United States that brings leaders in technology and business together to exchange ideas and build a strong, black tech community. I connected with other Africans across the diaspora in tech and left feeling empowered. It was my first time getting an in-depth look into many possible career paths and offered insight into career pivoting. I felt validated when I met many others who, like myself, have a job function that facilitates advancement and bridges access gaps to STEM education and tech careers.

From there I joined a local networking cohort. It has meant a lot to me to find others with whom I can identify and who are committed to making positive change and cultivating a tech support system here in LA. This cohort and the AfroTech conference have become anchors in my professional life.

Be open to meeting new people and listening to differing perspectives.”

 

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

Other than continuing to cultivate relationships in my local cohort and attending AfroTech again, I plan to expand my circle of influence by engaging my minority undergrad and grad school alumni networks. I will also attend more women in tech events to stay abreast of industry trends and learn the latest in tech diversity and inclusion. 

I currently lead our internal “women of XPRIZE” group where we promote gender parity within the foundation. Our plan for late 2020 is to start convening women in tech across LA via mixers and tech chats.

 

How do you establish long-term relationships with people once you’ve connected with them?

I stay in touch through platforms like LinkedIn and GroupMe. The key is to be open to meeting new people and listening to differing perspectives. Similarities bring opportunity, but so do the differences. There are times when the yin and yang philosophy can be applied to relationships that can bring about personal and professional growth and breakthrough innovations.

For me, those relationships look like support. For example, I met a wonderful subject-matter expert at an adult education conference two years ago and we stayed in touch via email and LinkedIn. My current work project was in search of advisory board members and she was the first person I thought of to invite due to her outgoing and positive personality, career trajectory in line with our project mission and curriculum design expertise.

 

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