By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Anne Izzillo, President of the Financial Women’s Association, believes sincerely in the power of networking – in fact, she said, that’s how she got involved in the group in the first place. “I lived and worked in London for 14 and a half years and I came back in 1999, basically without a network.”

“Everybody had gone to the four winds in the almost 15 years I was away,” she explained. “And somebody I know, a friend of a friend actually, suggested, because I was bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have a network anymore… that I join the FWA.”

Izzillo explained that networking externally is critical for building individual careers, but she believes it can also improve corporate diversity on a global scale.

Diversity in a Global Economy

Last week, The Financial Women’s Association of New York celebrated its 2011 Holiday Party at the NASDAQ Tower in Times Square with networking and discussion. A new partnership between the FWA and The Daily Beast’s Women in the World project was also announced at the event, whereby the FWA will have a page on the WITW website and partner on events.

Kim Azzarelli, Vice President, New Ventures at Newsweek Daily Beast and President of the Women in the World Foundation, announced the project. Azzarelli, whose background is in corporate law, said the partnership would connect different sectors to benefit women globally. She explained, “If we could connect the dots across all of the sectors, we could really do a lot for women and girls, and connect the dots across the generations as well.”

The partnership is one step in making the FWA a more global organization, which, Izzillo said, is one of her key goals for the next year and beyond. “Eventually, someday I’d love to see the FWA be an international or a global organization,” she said.

Izzillo explained the FWA’s recent trip to Brazil opened her eyes to the importance of working globally, both in terms of business and in terms of fostering gender equality. She explained, “I’ve started a task force to reach out to some of the women we met in São Paolo and Rio because, when we met with them, we talked about the economy and we had the economic conference, [and discussed] the issues of the country… but when we had the cocktail parties and the dinners with them, we talked about the same things that we talked about here at home.”

She continued, “It was gender equality, it was work life balance, it was how do you get to the next level in your career or in your business. And I thought we’re talking about it in New York, they’re talking about it in São Paolo, they’re taking about it in Rio… let’s talk to each other. Because maybe – maybe – there’s some global solutions here.”

“But if we don’t talk to each other we’ll never find those global solutions,” she added.

The Importance of Sponsorship

Izzillo also emphasized the critical importance of sponsorship for the advancement of women in the corporate space. She explained, “We’re certainly advocates for more women on corporate boards, more women in senior management, more women in the C-suite, and especially in CEO positions. Because we’re at 3% of the Fortune 500 CEOs. We’re 50% of the population. So you’re leaving out the thought leadership of 50% of the population. We don’t think that’s a good thing.”

She continued, “Without sponsorship women will not break through that glass ceiling. We won’t have more women on corporate boards. We will not have more women CEOs.”

She described a sponsor as someone at your firm, willing to spend his or her political capital on you. “That’s the person who is in the room where your future at the firm is being decided – your pay raises, your bonuses, who gets the crème de la crème accounts, who gets the projects that are going to be the projects that senior management is going to sit up and take notice about. That’s sponsorship.”

Women tend to have a more difficult time gaining sponsorship than men, simply because leaders tend to sponsor people who remind them of themselves – and currently, most leaders in the business world are male. But, Izzillo said plainly, “Without that we don’t believe women will advance, that we still will not break through what Sylvia Ann Hewlett calls the last glass ceiling.”

Izzillo said sponsorship has had a tremendous impact on her own career. She tries to actively sponsor other women, and hopes to influence others to think about the importance of sponsorship going forward.