Statistically speaking, if you’re a woman in the business sector, the word networking sends a shiver through your spine. Sharing ‘fun facts’ with a room full of strange (mostly) men, trying to deliver your scripted elevator pitches in a way that sounds natural while red wine leaks through your cracked plastic cup and onto the floor.
Thankfully, I’m here to tell you, you’re not alone, but it doesn’t have to be that way: you can be good at, and even enjoy networking! Read on to find out why women find networking harder on average, how to overcome the challenges, and what networking you might be doing already, without realising.
Types of networking
The first thing to know is that there are different kinds of networking for different kinds of relationships and types of environments. The traditional, frankly daunting image of networking you might have in mind is usually called strategic networking. This is when you set out with a particular motivation to build networks in a certain area or with particular kinds of people — it’s the kind most people are used to, and it’s really important for building strong working relationships and gaining foresight in your industry.
Strategic networking is all about knowledge. Know who you’re looking to meet, what to say, where to go — set out a complete plan of what you’re hoping to achieve with your interactions. At its core, this is about give and take: what can you do to help each other out. Looking at it that way, rather than asking for help, puts you in a position of equal power, which can help with your self-confidence.
If this is still scary for you, don’t worry, it will come with practice. I know this because you’re probably already an expert at another type of networking: serendipitous networking. This is a fancy name to describe all of the everyday human interactions you engage in during your daily life. Talking to someone next to you on the train, asking a shopkeeper about their day; these kinds of interactions could lead to new ideas, clients, or even business partners.
“Unlike strategic networking, serendipitous networking is all about improvisation. It requires little to no planning — how can you plan when you don’t know who you’ll run into? — and depends on your natural soft skills of empathy and conversation,” points out Carmela Vitali, a communications manager at State of Writing and EliteAssignmentHelp.
Common complaints about networking
If you’re uncomfortable with networking, the first thing to know is you’re not alone. Writing for the World Economic Forum, business professor Herminia Ibarra highlighted three key reasons why networking is harder for women.
Ibarra found that women find strategic networking difficult because of the lack of gender diversity in typical networking environments. Any social scientist will tell you how to attract, and the fact is the senior ranks of most industries are dominated by men, who are often separated from female spheres in both their work and home lives. This means women have to work twice as hard to be noticed by high-ranking male officials, which can turn them off to networking in the first place.
What to do?
So, when faced with foreboding networking environments, is there anything us women can do? Ibarra recommends an outside-in strategy. Look for new activities and projects you wouldn’t normally consider, or ones that are outside your department or company. By building a cross-company network with people of similar interests, you will collectively benefit from each other’s insight and experiences.
Another thing to remember is to be yourself. “By far the best way to make an impact is to be authentic, and while it might not work in every scenario, putting your personality and unique identity forward will make the interactions that are successful resonate far longer,” says Francine Dubek, a business writer at Study demic and Simple grad.
Networking is more than just one interaction, it’s a marathon of conversations and meetings, and shared plane trips. The important thing to remember is that, even if one interaction doesn’t go to plan, you can get back on the horse and start building relationships as the authentic, motivated woman you are!