Strategic Networking for Women
Most people realize early on in their career that networking is essential. A strong network makes it easier to get things done at work and to navigate your way up the career ladder. People in your network can be a source of new ideas and valuable advice. They also have the power to broaden your influence and opportunities. Despite all of these benefits, many people still find it difficult to devote time to expanding and nurturing their network.
Types of Networks
Not all networks are created equal, so it’s important to make sure you’re building the right type of network to support your goals. Some kinds of networks include:
Operational networks that help you get things done. They can help you be more effective at work by facilitating access to other people or resources.
Personal networks that help you with your professional development. People in your personal network can be an important source of career advice.
Strategic networks that help you focus on your future. They can help you establish big goals and put the plans in place to achieve them.
Strategic networks are the most impactful on your career and life; however, developing them is much more difficult than personal or operational networks.
Strategic Networking and Women
Strategic networking is typically much more difficult for women for a number of reasons. The challenges are even greater for women working in male-dominated industries or environments. Obstacles to effective networking for women include:
Like attracts like. People have a tendency to be drawn to people who are similar to themselves. This means that women in male-dominated workplaces have to work harder to establish relationships than their male colleagues. In these situations, establishing common ground and trust is not as natural and requires significantly more work and time.
Personal vs. professional networks. People naturally gravitate toward people who are similar to them, and this means that women often have separate work and social networks. With men, their social and work networks are much more likely to overlap. Male colleagues are much more likely to get a drink after work or play a round of golf on the weekend. The difference in women’s social and personal networks can become even more pronounced once they have children. Their personal time becomes devoted to family activities and these are less likely to overlap with workplace events or relationships.
By maintaining separate personal and professional networks, women are not able to take advantage of the conversations that happen outside of work. Conversations after work or outside of formal meetings strengthen relationships and trust between colleagues. If women are opting out of these conversations, they will have less influence and relationship capital.
Growing a Network
Women face more challenges than men in establishing a strong network, so they need to take action by seeking out shared activities. Spending time together strengthens relationships – whether it be a work project, volunteering, or an extracurricular activity. Regardless of the type of activity or setting, women need to get involved, be present, and contribute.
Attending a networking event without meeting new people and making new connections is not time well spent. Even if you’re only able to attend one event every few months, make it count by forming a handful of new relationships. After attending a couple of events, networking will become more comfortable and you’ll be the one providing advice, sharing ideas, and connecting others. The only way to reap the benefits of a strong network is to start doing it and let the results speak for themselves.
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