Women and Networking: Time to Change the Playbook

“Hell.”

That’s the word many women associate with networking. Why? Maybe it’s because most professional women have experienced networking based on a traditional approach, which is:

  • Based on entering a crowded room full of strangers and making small talk.
  • Scheduled on evenings and weekends, making it impossible to fit in around family commitments.
  • Centred around male-oriented activities like rugby and golf.

No wonder many of us shudder when we’re told that we need to “network” in order to advance our careers. What’s more alarming is that this approach doesn’t even work for us. A recent HBR article, “Why Networking More is Bad Advice For Women,” dissects several research studies, which prove that standard approaches to getting ahead fail women. The article’s author, Sarah Green Carmichael, concludes: “To me, the upshot of all of this research is increasingly clear: we need to stop telling women to follow a male playbook.”

Clearly, there has to be a better way.

What does “good” networking look like? How can we make it more palatable to – and productive for – professional women? Here are five strategies that have worked for me:

  1. Give, don’t take

The key to successful networking for women is adapting a completely different mindset: one that is based on giving vs. getting.   The famous law of reciprocity! A Fast Company article, “A Networking Paradigm Shift: Focus on Giving Not Taking,” explains it quite well: Networking from a giving rather than a getting perspective is “a much more empowered way to think about your career: It forces you to realize that you are not a needy person who has to rely on others to succeed, and focuses on the many things you have to offer the world.”

  1. Find your tribe

By design, many women-centric networking groups, including WeAreTheCity, provide a supportive environment and operate according to the “give vs. get” philosophy. Once you’re in one of these communities, follow the advice offered by WeAreTheCity’s Founder Vanessa Vallely in a recent BBC Radio 4 interview: “Don’t put too much emphasis on the word networking. It’s the art of having a conversation with someone and being inquisitive and getting to know them.”

  1. Get digital

Many women who don’t enjoy traditional in-person networking are absolutely daunted by digital networking. But this need not be the case – especially if you take a “what can I give/what can I learn” stance. Using social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook is a brilliant way to surround yourself with supportive, varied, and incredibly knowledgeable people – not just people who can “deliver.” As Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, explains in a Forbes article entitled “Who’s afraid of Digital Networking? Women?”: “What works in-person also works online.  So when you approach the social world, put aside your fears and misconceptions and remember that there’s a person behind every worthwhile social media account.” The added benefit of digital networking? Because you can do it wherever, whenever, it may be a better fit for working mothers.

  1. Stay in touch

Everyone has a pre-existing network of colleagues, former classmates, and industry acquaintances. Like any relationship, your network needs attention in order to thrive. So stay in touch with people – through both physical and virtual means – on a regular basis, not just when you need something. Connect with people on LinkedIn to see what they’re up to. Have drinks with people you used to work with. Give talks at alumni events. Retain the mind-set of having conversations instead of extracting favours.

  1. Treat people well

To be successful at “give-driven” networking, you have to actually care about other people’s success instead of just your own – and you have to show it. Strengthen your network through small, day-to-day acts: help head-hunters when they call, tweet about people’s books or blog posts, send a congratulatory note to someone who received a promotion or started a new job. Random acts of kindness have a boomerang effect – the goodwill you extend will eventually come back to you.

What comes next?

The kind of ‘old-style’ networking that is driven by uncomfortable, inconvenient, needs-based transactions quite frankly is my idea of hell too. So let’s invent a new way of networking that doesn’t fill us with dread, based on supportive, dynamic, relationship-building interactions. Sounds much more like my cup of tea.

About Christine Bailey:

Dr. Christine Bailey is Marketing Director, EMEA & Russia at Cisco SystChristine Baileyems. She is responsible at a Regional level for financial operations, brand and thought leadership, revenue marketing programs, partner and Distribution marketing. Chris has 24 years¹ experience of business to business marketing in the technology sector. Chris is also the Global & EMEAR co-lead for Connected Women at Cisco – a voluntary global community run by employees to attract, develop, retain and celebrate talented women as part of a competitive and diverse workforce. Chris holds a bachelor¹s degree in German & Business Studies from Warwick University and a doctorate (DBA) in customer insight from Cranfield University School of Management in the UK. Chris blogs on leadership, gender diversity and the advancement of women, digital and social marketing and customer insight.

Website: http://blogs.cisco.com/author/christinebailey

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