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Two Ten’s WIFI Community Talks Networking Successes, Career Advancement Advice in Virtual Series

The Two Ten Foundation‘s Women in the Footwear Industry (WIFI) community came together this week for an insightful conversation centered around the theme of networking success stories.

As part of WIFI’s virtual content series sponsored by Aldo Group, moderator Eli Del Carmen, vice president of sales at Caleres, was joined by Elaine Eaton, vice president of wholesale at Crocs, and Jennifer Hutchison, director of operations at BBC International, to discuss how they utilize their networks to advance their career goals, what worked, what didn’t and more.

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Eaton, a 21-year footwear industry veteran, started with speaking about the importance of using networking beyond just career advancement. “I use networking to exchange ideas and knowledge within the industry,” Eaton said. “I find people can be a great sounding board for me whether it’s a challenge I’m working through, or maybe it’s a new category we’re thinking about adding at Crocs. So, it’s about who can I pull in from my personal network that I can tap into their knowledge.”

Hutchison, a 19-year industry veteran, agreed with Eaton, adding that networking is critical in the footwear industry. “It’s a very close-knit family industry, and there’s always someone that you can reach out to for some advice or questions or guidance,” Hutchison said. “I’ve been very blessed to have some great mentors in the footwear industry.”

During Tuesday’s virtual panel, the leaders stressed that it’s okay to start small with people within your organization you’re comfortable with and those who may already be some of your biggest cheerleaders. “Get comfortable with asking for feedback and asking for advice, and kind of stretch those networking skills with them before you branch out to some of the other people that are a little more intimidating,” Hutchison noted. “It just helps build confidence with the more people you talk to.”

Another key takeaway from Tuesday’s discussion revolved around not feeling embarrassed about any networking missteps, like not having something clever to say when a manager touches base with you or having an awkward moment. “Whatever you build up in your mind is probably so much worse than how the other person thought of the situation,” Eaton said. “We’re all humans, we all make mistakes, and that’s the most important thing for everyone to remember in their careers. But, most of the time, the other individual is not going to remember what you thought was an awkward misstep in the future. You need to keep forging the ride.”

Turning to personal career advancement, Del Carmen stressed that you need to be an advocate for yourself. “I realized early on that I need to be the one to take the initiative,” Del Carmen said. “I need to be the one speaking up and being an advocate for myself because nobody really was coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, you’d be great for this job.’ So, when I would see openings come up within the company, I would go to my direct report, or I would go two steps above my direct report, and I would speak up for myself. It’s really important for younger women to hear that you have to speak up; you have to be an advocate for yourself. Don’t always wait for somebody to come to you because that might not happen.”

Founded more than a decade ago by industry leaders Diane Sullivan and Carol Baiocchi, WIFI has provided a community and forum for women to connect and support one another. Since its debut, the community has grown to 5,000 members at its peak and the organization is looking to scale even more.

The next WIFI virtual event will be held on April 17 on building your professional network. On Aug. 21, there will be another event centered around creating a coaching culture. The final virtual WIFI event of the year will be on Oct. 16, where leaders will discuss the art of delegating.

Go to twoten.org/wifi to find out more and to watch the full panel discussion.

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