For those who can't get passed the paywall:
Networking is crucial for advancing a career, building relationships and getting knowledgeable about a range of subjects. And women have a much tougher time of it than men.
It comes down to numbers, my research shows. There are so few women in positions of power that it is difficult for women to find sponsors to make introductions and referrals, and models of effective leadership are geared toward men. And because of that, women begin to believe not only that the cards are stacked against them but also that there is something wrong with networking itself.
Of course, it can be daunting for both men and women to reach out to people who are more senior and outside their immediate area. But women’s difficulties with workplace networking go beyond that. People form and maintain relationships easily and spontaneously with others like them, decades of research shows. When an organization’s senior ranks and an industry’s power players are mostly male, the “likes attract” principle means that women often have to work harder to build relationships with decision makers and influential stakeholders.
At the same time, there are few other women around for women to build professional relationships with. The result? Women are consistently excluded from male-dominated social gatherings, which let businesspeople talk shop and bounce ideas in an informal atmosphere that builds camaraderie and trust. Compounding the problem is that men and women tend to favor different leisure and extracurricular pursuits. So men find it much easier to mix play and work in the first place, with pursuits such as golf, while women often struggle to combine the two spheres of life.
In my research, I ask people to list all the contacts they consult for work matters, as well as the friends they hang out with outside of work. Men often have some people on both lists— they’ll play squash or go to dinner with some of those work contacts. Women, in contrast, are more likely to have two separate lists. This difference is most pronounced for women who have children, when outside-of-work relationships tend to become more driven by school activities and family.
All of which means it takes longer for women to achieve influence. It also increases the likelihood that women will have unfavorable views about networking. The more we differ from key stakeholders, and the more we have to go out of our way to interact informally with them, the more likely we’ll view networking as disingenuous and calculating. So women begin to see networking as being about selfish gain and using people.
Aspiring women leaders can start taking charge of their network with three tactics. Be a bridge. The best way for women to expand their professional relationships is by making connections across the diverse circles that make up their network. For example, one marketing executive for a large manufacturing firm found herself attending events in which ideas were presented on which she knew could help her colleagues. She started writing up what she was seeing in a LinkedIn blog, and that raised her visibility in the company. When she met the author of a new book on agile working, she knew his methodology could potentially transform her firm’s operations. So she introduced him to a manager she had gotten to know through the LinkedIn column. Five years later, the methodology was in place across the organization—and she landed a promotion. Do it your way. Effective networking usually involves investing time in extracurricular activities. But many women balk at what seems to be limited choice among things they are not very interested in, such as playing golf or attending sporting events. I have seen many savvy networkers, however, leverage a personal interest into something more strategic in the workplace.
Take, for instance, one investment banker who was passionate about the theater. Frustrated that she kept missing plays she wanted to see, she made her passion part of her business development. Four times a year, her secretary booked tickets, organized an informal buffet dinner at a restaurant near the theater and invited her clients, prospective clients and other key people she wanted to get to know better. The stage became a backdrop for developing her own business and facilitating connections among people in her networks.
Join a women’s professional network. Because women’s informal networks tend to have separate work and social spheres, it can be harder for women to achieve their potential. Joining a women’s network, such as the Wing, is a great way to bring the two spheres together. A women’s network can be a supportive setting for women to compare notes and reinforce one another’s learning. One website founder from New Zealand told me, “Coming here, there is a sense of comfort; you can fully relax.”
Ultimately, it is women’s misconceptions about networking that hold them back. If you believe you will never be any good at it or that you are wasting time, if there is a voice in your head telling you it is self-serving and political, you won’t commit to breaking your usual routine. The only way to debunk such limiting assumptions is for women to try it and learn from their own experience that networking is one of the most valuable ways to invest their time.
Doing god's work.