When I start talking about ‘networking’ with the high-potential women I work with, many scrunch their noses in disgust.
For these women, the term ‘networking’ brings to mind events with bad wine and cheesy icebreakers. They say that networking takes too much time, feels disingenuous, and yields too little result. As a result, many of these women have fewer relationships at work and outside work that can help them succeed. The relationships they do have are often only just with the colleagues they work with every day and with their friends, rather than with people who can help them in the future.
The data on women’s networks confirms my experience. Recent research conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. found that “women are three times more likely to rely on a network that is mostly female. Because men typically hold more senior-level positions, this means women are less likely to get access to people with the clout to open doors for them.”
“women are 3X more likely to rely on a network that is mostly female”wp-content/plugins/wordpress-importer/
Having a strong, diverse network is important to our careers. A strong network provides us with information and influence to get work done and to have access to new opportunities. As we progress up the ladder, the quality of our network is a key factor in our success.
So how can we help the women we work with embrace networking?
#1 Teach the difference between networking and strategic networking
Strategic networking is intentional. It means knowing where our networks have gaps and then working to fill those gaps. For example, maybe our networks are mostly comprised of “operational” relationships – people who help us get our day-to-day job done, and we need to build more relationships that will help us with our future goals. Or, like the LeanIn research found, maybe our networks are too homogenous, and we need to network with more men or with more people outside our current companies or industries.
We teach SOAR participants how to map their networks and identify if their networks are too homogenous or aligned only to short-term goals. After mapping their networks, they can ensure that their networking time is much more focused. For example, when we are engaged in strategic networking, we only attend ‘networking’ events if we know someone we want to meet will be attending.
#2 Provide examples of how to build a balanced ‘give and take’ relationship
Some women shy away from networking because it feels disingenuous. The way to overcome this is to approach new relationships with a ‘give’ rather than an ‘ask.’ We need to think of our networks as bank accounts. When you open a bank account, you first have to make a deposit before you can withdraw any money. The same is true of our networking relationships. For example, a great way to ‘give’ to someone is to offer to introduce them to another person in your network. Other examples of ‘giving’ include sending articles that our contacts may be interested in, congratulating people on promotions or life events, or inviting our contacts to be our guests at an upcoming event.
#3 Reinforce that network building needs to be a regular work and life activity
If we spend a small amount of time each day or each week building our networks, the activity will feel much less daunting. Tips that SOAR participants have shared for making network building a regular activity include:
- Pursue your interests– Some of the strongest relationships are built around shared interests. The people we meet through special work projects, volunteer activities, and hobbies can become valuable parts of our networks.
- Spend 15 minutes a day – Getting in the habit of spending just 15 minutes a day reaching out to one new person or staying in touch with an existing contact can reap dividends over the course of a year. For inspiration, we recommend reading Molly Beck’s new book, Reach Out, on her experience doing this.
- Get organized – It is hard to be intentional in networking if our contacts are not organized in some fashion. Some of our favorite contact management tools include an old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet, Cloze, Full Contact, and CircleBack
- Piggyback on existing events – We love using mealtime, business travel, and corporate events as a time to also build our networks. Resist the urge to work through lunch and eat with a colleague or meet an outside of work contact for lunch (or breakfast). When traveling for work, use the trip as an opportunity to connect with a contact or two who lives nearby. When attending conferences, we use the downtime to strategically network with other attendees, rather than retreating to our hotel rooms.