Transcript: How to Survive as an Executive, Season 1, Episode 2: The 3 Cs of Networking – Create, Connect and Contribute, with Jeannine Ritchot
Jeannine Ritchot: I encourage all of you to just think about the person that you met at a conference or at a meeting that you were at in another department or in your community and that you really want to get to know, and just do it. Just send them an email or send them a LinkedIn invite. Just do it.
Julie Blais Comeau: Networking. The very word can be intimidating. Dreaded by many, this professional activity is vital to both increasing your knowledge and maintaining relationships.
Hello, I'm Julie Blais Comeau. Welcome to the podcast, How to Survive as an Executive.
I'm pleased to welcome Ms. Jeannine Ritchot, who will share her best practices for networking and she will tell a few anecdotes along the way. She's a proud Franco-Manitoban and she is Assistant Deputy Minister in the Communications and Portfolio Sector at Natural Resources Canada.
Hello, Jeannine, and welcome to How to Survive as an Executive.
Jeannine Ritchot: Hi, Julie.
Julie Blais Comeau: The first time that we talked, you had talked to me about a group called the "G-7." It's your personal networking group. I was curious: how are the ladies of the G7?
Jeannine Ritchot: Oh, thank you so much for asking, Julie.
The G7, for those who are wondering, is a group of seven of us who used to work together at PCO [Privy Council Office] a number of years ago and now we're all executives across the government and in various different departments. The seven of us have always stuck together, so we've nicknamed ourselves the G7 and we chat almost every day.
These days, we're checking in on each other a lot more to make sure that everybody's OK. I'm happy to say that we're all safe and healthy so far. Thank you for asking about my six best friends, Julie.
Julie Blais Comeau: That's great to hear. Now you're talking about your six best friends. And today we're really focusing on networking.
So tell me, do you think, Jeannine, that there should be a difference between your personal and your professional network?
Jeannine Ritchot: Not really. I mean, I think we live in an age now where our personal lives and our work lives, even before this pandemic, were already really intertwined. You know, since we've all been walking around with mobile devices—if you're like me, you have one for work and one for home—you're always able to be contacted by your work network at any given moment.
You just never know when somebody in your professional life is going to need something—even just a service of some kind. They want to know, Hey, who can I call in Ottawa that does such and such? Well, I might have that in my quote, unquote, personal network. So really, a network is a network. And I think the more people you have in it, from the more backgrounds and the more diverse it is, the better.
Julie Blais Comeau: You talk about service. A lot of people find networking intimidating, even scary. Would you agree that if we adopt a philosophy of service, of helping, it makes it so much easier?
Jeannine Ritchot: Yeah, I think that's a really good point, Julie. A lot of people don't want to network, for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is they do think it's intimidating to have to pick up the phone and reach out to someone that they may know very, very little or that they might just know of, but they haven't actually met that person.
Sometimes people feel like, If I call somebody for help, I'm admitting that I need help and then everybody's going to think badly of me. And sometimes people think that, If I call somebody, I'm just going to impose and I don't want to be a bother. I think that's the wrong way to look at networks.
I think networks are something that you need to grow and you need to nurture. They take a lot of effort, for sure. But you then have a group of people that you can call on when you need; the reciprocal of that is that when somebody needs help from you or they need a connection, you are there for them.
Julie Blais Comeau: Agreed. It's a mutually beneficial relationship.
You've also stated that personal, professional, it can come in and out. How do you start? Because all of our lives, from the moment that we step outside of our family, even our family in essence, can be viewed as a network. How do you start consciously to build that network? How do you create your own network?
Jeannine Ritchot: It's funny because you used the word "consciously." I think that's a really good characterization. We are building a network whether we realize it or not. Every single day, every time we have a conversation with another person, every time we make a connection with another person, we are absolutely building a network.
When I first became conscious of the fact that I should be nurturing the network that I already had and that I had built unconsciously, I would say when I became aware of that, was probably when I became an executive.
One of the things that became apparent to me rather quickly—well, two things. One is, you're no longer expected to be the technical expert on everything. Now you're in a more leadership and management role. So that was the first thing to get used to. But the second thing to get used to is that it's really lonely.
And when you think about it, the higher up you go, the lonelier it gets, because there's fewer and fewer and fewer of you. So when I became an executive is when I really consciously started to pay close attention to the people that were positive around me and to make sure that I kept them around me in my personal and my professional networks.
Julie Blais Comeau: You've already shared with us about your group of G7, a group where you're all evolving through the ranks together. You're supporting each other in many different ways. I also know from reading your biography and from chatting with you that you're providing such a network for women at the University of Ottawa, the [lady] Gee Gees. You just founded that group.
Tell us a little bit more how you're now beyond creating and connecting: you're contributing to other women in your network, your alma mater, that will be able to benefit from an internal network. Tell us a little bit about that.
Jeannine Ritchot: Yes. So I'm really fiercely passionate about women in sport.
Why I believe women in sport is so important, aside from the fact that we all deserve equal opportunities to play and to grow athletically, is because when you think about sport, it teaches you so much about leadership. It teaches you teamwork. It teaches you that you are part of a unit and that everybody has a role to play to get to an end goal. It teaches you how to advance together.
Girls typically drop out of sports at age 14, [at a rate] four times faster than boys do. As a result, they're missing out on these opportunities to grow leadership skills. So I've become very involved with my alma mater. I created a scholarship in my name for a young female varsity athlete at the University of Ottawa.
Recently, they reached out to me and a few other women who've created scholarships or who used to play college sports to ask if we would help them set up a network for women in sport at the University of Ottawa. That's how it originally started, but we've blossomed it into, every Thursday night, there's a different career chat where we have young women who are athletes come and listen to those of us who have started careers share our experiences about how to navigate the world after university.
But I have to tell you, I feel so inspired every time I hear one of their stories about what they've achieved as an athlete and what I know this means for the world when they are released upon it! It's just a very inspiring thing for me as well.
Julie Blais Comeau: Again, something very reciprocal. Networking is about connecting. It's about contributing. It's also about the community. How do you connect within your very own community?
We've talked about the work community. We've talked about your involvement with sports, your alma mater. But what about locally, that whole network that is right there, right around the corner?
Jeannine Ritchot: Yeah. This is another thing that, as difficult as COVID-19 is, it has allowed me to see the world in a different way. This is one of those unexpected gifts.
If you had asked me in early February about my network, I'm not entirely sure that I would have included some of the local community businesses that I frequent and that I've relied on. I think—I don't think, I know, I took for granted that they were there. And now, of course, with the pandemic and the impacts on the economy and not having access to a lot of those services and those businesses, it's really hit me that the owners of all of these small businesses are important parts of my network and what they do fills my life.
So now I very, very much consider that all of these small business owners are part of my network. They're part of my community. And I've been reaching out to them as much as I can to try to [support them as much as I can].
My spa has been putting together little manicure and pedicure kits. I don't even want to tell you how many I've bought that I can give out as little gifts! It's a little contribution, so I can help her survive during this time. I've done a lot of online shopping at Victoire, I will admit. My husband will tell you I've done too much. [laughs]
I am just looking for ways to keep them part of my life, which in essence is part of my network.
Julie Blais Comeau: Yes, that sense of community right now is so, so very important. And soon, when we're out of lockdown, we'll probably organize a tour and we can go around to all of your favourite spots and connect with all of these people!
Jeanine Ritchot: We can organize one! I'll bring as many people as we are allowed, according to public health instruction, to have in a place at once at a safe physical distance.
I would love to introduce people to some of my favourite local businesses.
That's the other part about this. Having these types of conversations, I have also been introduced to some of my friends' favourite local businesses and I've discovered new local businesses. So in a strange way, despite the confinement, my network has grown— and it's a really lovely gift.
Julie Blais Comeau: I also find that right now, while we're in lockdown, while we're working from home, we're connecting even more online through social media and even LinkedIn.
What would you say to somebody that's now starting to realize the power of their network? What would you say to them [about connecting through] something like LinkedIn; what would you recommend that they do first?
Jeannine Ritchot: I would recommend whatever they're most comfortable with. For some people, maybe it's more an electronic platform like LinkedIn or even Facebook or Twitter or any of those social media platforms. [Maybe] you're the kind of person that's more comfortable sending an email or even picking up the phone—although people that pick up the phone are kind of rare these days because we've gotten so many other options!
But whatever your preferred platform is, I encourage all of you to just think about the person that you met at a conference or at a meeting that you were at in another department or in your community and that you really want to get to know, and just do it. Just send them an email or send them a LinkedIn invite. Just do it.
I promise you that that person is probably going to receive that notification and think, Oh, how nice. You know, I've actually been thinking of so-and-so as well. That's a good way to start consciously growing your network. You'll see, it gets easier and easier and easier.
Julie Blais Comeau: Yes. And to also give back like you have. Sometimes to just raise your hand and volunteer for something. Right away that connection may seem easier instead of going over there, as we used to do traditionally, putting your hand out and saying who you are. There are a lot more possibilities that can make it easier online.
Jeannine Ritchot: Oh, absolutely. Especially for the introverted among us. You can probably tell just by talking to me that I'm not one of those introverted people, but [laughing] a lot of us are. A lot of us are more introverted, and that's totally OK. It may be less intimidating to just kind of put your hand up virtually for something that you're seeing online during this time. There are so many ways you can do it. You've just got to find the courage to take the first step.
Once you start connecting to other people in a conscious manner and realize how good it makes you feel, how and what you get out of it, I promise you that you're going to—
Back in the old days, you would have had a Rolodex that was completely full. Now you'll just have a full address book.
Julie Blais Comeau: I know. I remember those.
Networking is about connecting. And it's really important to remember, as you stated Jeannine, that it's about the power of helping. Now, maybe, you're asking somebody to help you, but keep your eyes, keep your ears open as to how you can help out others.
You said it so well about courage. Have your courage. I'm going to chime in with you. I would hope that by the end of this podcast everybody's going to go and send that email or connect on LinkedIn with you—because you're there on LinkedIn. Are you not, Jeannine?
Jeannine Ritchot: Oh, yes, I am. I'm a very prolific user of LinkedIn. [laughs]
Julie Blais Comeau: Great. And on Twitter.
One last question for you, Jeannine. If I looked at your network from way, way up in the sky—maybe I'm a drone—and I see Jeannine's network: who would I be surprised to see in there? I know there are athletes. I know there are executives, public servants, your spa, [laughter] and all of that. But who would I be surprised to see?
Jeannine Ritchot: If you flip through my LinkedIn, you will see a lot of international connections. I have people in my network from Helsinki. I have people in my network from Vietnam. I have people in my network from South America, Peru, where I've done a lot of work on regulatory policy.
I just think that that is such a cool thing; that you can talk to one another about your experiences internationally and learn from each other that way. It really enriches my experiences and my ability to respond to challenges, because I can see not only what's done in my own country, but around the entire globe. I think that's a pretty special thing.
Julie Blais Comeau: It's very, very powerful and, yes, very, very special. And, you know, Jeannine, I would like to think that maybe sometime very, very soon, in that network, when I look from way above, that I could see Bruce Springsteen. So let's see how many degrees of connection we need to connect you to Bruce Springsteen. Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge is on!
Jeannine Ritchot: That is the dream. That is the dream! I can say that I've seen him many times in many concerts everywhere around the world. In Chicago. I was in the pit and he touched my right hand and I almost died happy.
Julie Blais Comeau: Luckily, it wasn't during the pandemic. You would have had to wash it off, right away!
Jeannine, this has been most enjoyable. Any closing words before we say goodbye to our audience, to our listeners?
Jeannine Ritchot: You will never, ever, ever regret reaching out and forming a connection with another person. So get out there and do it!
Julie Blais Comeau: I'm certainly glad that I reached out to you and that we connected for this episode of How to Survive as an Executive. Thank you very, very much. And take good care.
Thank you for spending time with us. We invite you to continue the conversation within your own network by sharing this podcast. Do you know an executive who would make a good guest? Or better yet, maybe you would like to participate! Please contact us. Stay well. You are important.