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A young woman is shown in a business setting shaking hands with someone.

The Women’s Network gives students the confidence and the tools they need to network successfully.

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As a sophomore at Syracuse University, Jamie Vinick was looking for a cohort of like-minded women she could network and grow her professional confidence with, but she found nothing of the kind. So she took matters into her own hands.

Vinick founded The Women’s Network (TWN) in 2017 as a student club at Syracuse University, and in 2020 she partnered with two other schools to establish a national network. In the years since its founding, the organization has grown from three university chapters to over 100, involving thousands of women each year and producing positive postgraduate skill development and career outcomes.

“It's really important that we’re having these conversations and encouraging and uplifting as many women and non-male-identifying people as possible to embrace their ambition,” Vinick says.

What it is: The Women’s Network is made up of 120 chapters and 45,000 active members. Each chapter is a student-led organization that belongs to an institution in the U.S. or Canada, and while they follow national standards and training protocols, each runs independently with significant autonomy, Vinick explains.

Members are typically high-achieving, ambitious women who are looking to contribute to a collaborative environment, she adds.

What’s the need: In developing TWN, Vinick—who is now, as a college graduate, the organization’s CEO—was looking to accomplish three goals: establish a collaborative, open community among women and other nonmale gender identities; create speaking events for minority or underrepresented identities in various career fields; and build professional skills and confidence among students before graduation.

“One of the No. 1 things I hear from [female students] is ‘I just don’t feel like I’m adequate enough to reach out to this person or to introduce myself’ or ‘I’m kind of ashamed or embarrassed or a little shy about my level of ambition,’ and I’ve never heard a man say any of that,” Vinick says.

Equitable access is also a concern for Vinick. In her own academic career, peers were competitive or would gatekeep information about internships or job opportunities, and she wanted to break down those barriers in TWN.

Vinick also recognizes every institution has different resources, and for some students, they may be lacking role models or professional guests who look like them. TWN chapter leaders can close that gap by inviting their own speakers who are representative of their cohort.

How it works: Each student chapter puts on events throughout the academic term, ranging from workshops for résumé writing and speaker events to book clubs and receptions with graduates.

“It’s interesting to see the types of events that chapters hold, because it varies depending on the campus because of the need,” Vinick adds.

Some chapters lean into community building, establishing relationships between students and creating mentorships, whereas others look to increase speaker diversity on campus by inviting women with different success stories or identities.

Common discussion topics include salary negotiation, embracing ambition, building confidence and combating impostor syndrome.

In February, TWN hosted a virtual career fair and 1,700 people signed up to participate—gaining access to 50 listed internships and job opportunities as well as attending a keynote and sessions covering early-career confidence and how to shine as a summer intern.

Beyond its own programming, TWN encourages students to plug in to their campus resources to maximize the college experience.

“You need to be reaching out to people, you need to be joining organizations, you need to be putting yourself out there,” Vinick says. “Just developing some of the soft skills, such as leadership, organizational, managerial skills, that can’t be necessarily taught in a classroom experience.”

The organization also encourages mentorships among its members, with upper-level students taking first- and second-year students under their wings or establishing mentorships between professionals and students.

What’s the impact: As a result of involvement in the Women’s Network, students have found success in a variety of ways. Some have changed their majors to better align with their career interests, while others have established deep friendships and mentorships, and others still have landed jobs and internships as a direct result.

“It's really opened doors for a lot of people, because it’s exposed people to different industries and connected you to the right people,” Vinick says. “I hear stories almost daily of members in the network who took on a leadership position and that became the dominating focus of their interview. It enabled them to land opportunities at companies that they didn’t think they would be able to apply for or have a chance at interviewing.”

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