There is a void of women at colleges throughout the country, according to Jamie Vinick, founder and president of The Women’s Network. This women-led networking community, which is expanding to Boston College and 99 other schools, is working to fill it.
“So, there are lots of spaces on campus that meet the needs of students,” Vinick said. “There aren’t as many spaces on campus that allow women to feel comfortable … acknowledging and confronting nuances associated with workforce entrance and advancement as a woman.”
The Women’s Network, which hopes to fill that missing space, connects collegiate women with other students, professionals, and industry leaders.
Vinick founded the network in September of 2017 while she was a student at Syracuse University, she said. The Women’s Network first began as a club before expanding to 42 private and public colleges across the country.
The creation of BC’s chapter, Vinick said, will be guided by the national organization, but it will be built by the BC community.
“So, BC students, [BC] women, will be the ones building the chapter, led by the national organization,” she said.
Network chapters often plan events like book club meetings and workshops, Vinick said. At the national level, the network hosts larger events with speakers such as Kaitlan Collins, chief White House correspondent for CNN. The Network also has a podcast, “Redefining Ambition,” that highlights the experiences of women in leadership.
Leadership and landing a dream job later on in life, Vinick said, is not only the result of academic success.
“It ultimately, as well, comes down often to who you know,” she said. “And it’s really important, you’re able to set yourself up for success and build out a network for yourself at this stage in life that you could then cultivate and grow over time.”
For that reason, The Women’s Network focuses on connecting women to opportunities and “the right people.” This focus remains steadfast at all chapters of The Women’s Network, Vinick said, despite the differences between the colleges within the organization.
“The focus has really remained at all these different schools on providing the most meaningful programmatic experience for every single member that makes them feel valued, allows them to build leadership experience, allows them to meet and network authentically with other high achieving women,” she said.
Despite the benefits of joining groups like The Women’s Network, Vinick said she knows that people can often be hesitant to join national organizations.
“I’m always hesitant to join anything new,” she said. “I want to know what the history is, what the mission is. … Do they have genuine intentions? What is the impact? What have people’s experiences been like?”
Individualization at the chapter level, she said, might combat the hesitancy. While following national guidelines, chapters can pivot programming to reflect the interests highlighted at their particular universities.
Chapters at Emory University and Vanderbilt University host many STEM-based networking programs, for example, while the chapter at the University of Southern California hosts networking events for the entertainment industry in order to accommodate its members’ interests.
“Every chapter … holds events, facilitates events that are reflective of membership interests,” Vinick said.
Many of the chapter events this past year happened virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As restrictions fade, though, Vinick said she hopes in-person events might promote deeper conversations within the network.
“Once people are facilitating discussion, asking questions that really get to the heart of what it means to network and put yourself out there and advocate for yourself, it becomes a much deeper conversation, and those are some of the most meaningful in person,” Vinick said.
Larger, network-wide speaker meetings will remain on Zoom, according to Vinick.
“Part of the reasoning behind that is when you attend speaker events, you’re actually not there to necessarily network and meet other students,” she said. “You’re there to learn from the speaker, and even introduce yourself.”
By filling the women’s networking void now, Vinick hopes her organization can close gender gaps at the top of industries in the future.
“There’s a broken pipeline to [top leadership levels],” Vinick said. “The Women’s Network believes that this is one outlet towards contributing to a potential solution that will enable more women to have the confidence, courage, resources, access to opportunities to begin to change the course at the top at a faster rate.”
Correction: A previous version of this article listed an incorrect date, and that error has been corrected.
Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For the Heights