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A Conversation with Linda Casotti on Networking and Women in Business

August 10, 2011

Linkage had the opportunity to sit down with Linda Casotti at our 2010 Women in Leadership Summit.  Linda is a Product Owner at SunGard Higher Education. Here is our conversation with her:

Tell us about SunGard Higher Education.

SunGard Higher Education is the largest solution provider of software for administrative offices to colleges and universities around the world.

You don’t have a formal role in women’s initiatives there, but this is something that you’ve been doing for quite a while.

I don’t have a formal role with women’s initiatives at all. My passion for leadership and being involved with women really started nearly 20 years ago when I was working at West Chester University and I was asked to advise a student group. It was a community service honors organization where the women provided community service to the campus and the community. I saw emerging leaders in women and they were not being nurtured for their characteristics and their skill sets in a college environment. 

I worked with them in that environment, going to their meetings and working with them as they did community service. They were not being given the opportunity to work on their resume skills or their cover letters or anything of that nature, outside of the parameters of a traditional career development center. So I got involved, and then I left the university to work for SunGard Higher Education, and I came back as their unofficial adviser. I feel that I can share knowledge with these young women that do not have the benefits of being in the industry for 25 years.

You bring a unique perspective to this Summit because you work in higher education. Are the issues that face female students the same that women in business face?

Absolutely. I see such a sense of insecurity with the young women that I work with. They do not feel comfortable speaking out about how they feel.

I also see this in corporate settings.  Sometimes you are scared to speak out because you’re considered too passionate.  Maybe you’re too gregarious or way too assertive, and that is stifled in the corporate area.

You talk a lot about the concept of networking. Why is this so important?

Networking is really communication, relationship-building and having a support network that will nurture you both socially and professionally. With the learning team that we had this year [at the Women in Leadership Summit], our strategy was to determine who is your support network to help you advance your career, what is the benefit of that relationship and how can that relationship be mutual?  Pay it forward first, and then you’ll receive back.

We spent the first day talking just about the nuts and bolts of networking, their expectations of the session, where they felt there were deficits in their process. The second day we started to develop action plans for developing that network both socially and professionally. Next, we’re going to set up checkpoints at three, six, nine and 12 months, and at that point I will check in with each of the participants to see where they are with their plans.

Is it true that when it comes to networking, women are less comfortable asking for the connect, less comfortable asking other people to help them out?

We talked about how men network versus women.  Men network, let’s say, on the golf course.  They network playing sports,  I don’t think women take advantage of outside opportunities to network and really sell themselves for who they are.

What other pieces are in the action plans that you build?

We talk about scripting: three bullet points in the first two minutes so that you can make a positive impression. The first night at the networking reception, I give them homework: network and talk to six women at the conference using the tools that we’ve talked about earlier in the day. This conference is an amazing opportunity and a safe haven for women who don’t feel as confident approaching someone to get that experience in this haven where people will embrace and support their leadership skills.

We talk about a purposed statement, or a summary.  What is the goal of this action plan over the next 12 months?  Everyone has a different approach. We talk about goals and objectives and what are the milestones within that plan, so some of the women may say, “Well, I’ll do a three, six, nine and 12-month plan.”  Some may say, “I’ll do a four, eight and 12-month plan.”

We also ask: “Who are going to be your key people that you’re going to network with, both women and men?” One of my recommendations is to have either a wingwoman or a wingman – someone who is going to support this endeavor and motivate you throughout the year.

Most people think of networking in a business setting, but are there any other types of people that you would suggest that people network with?

The hairdresser; people at the grocery store.  I said to the group, “Don’t ever discredit anyone you meet, and always have your business cards with you. If you want to have a personal business card outside of the boundaries of your professional scope, that’s fine to do something like that.” I continued, “But never close the door and always look for an opportunity, because you never know–there may be some aspect of that person that you can work with and be mutually beneficial to help you advance your career or even something in a social setting.”

You’ve been coming to this Summit for years.  What are women talking about this year?  What are the themes that you’re hearing?

I’m hearing a lot about a lack of mentoring in the corporate world.  They’re not having sponsors to help them elevate themselves to the next level. 

I’m hearing that American women are globalizing their mind frame, and are not able to eloquently articulate women’s leadership from a global perspective. Having grown up in Australia, we’re very cognizant, I think, of the world as a whole, and one of the things that I share with my learning team is to always know what’s going on from a current affairs perspective.

Linda Casotti is a product owner at SunGard Higher Education. She has spent 20 years demonstrating leadership through her involvement with an honorary academic student service organization, volunteering in local community service programs that inspire young women to make a difference outside the classroom.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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