“Networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address,” says an article on Harvard Business Review entitled How Leaders Create and Use Networks. This is a well-rounded summation to the benefit of networking and also the challenge that many face. Women, however, are lagging behind on this important aspect of business and professional growth.
Men are succeeding at networking
Many men are great networkers. Be it at the golf course, or over a beer watching the footy, men are much more open to using such meetings as opportunities to establish their professional network. Passing around their business cards and talking about their business seemingly comes naturally to them; and this is a huge advantage when it comes to building relationships that progress into business opportunities. The value networking brings also extends to helping stimulate the interest of potential investors without having to ask for their money, and spreading the word on business without reserve.
And women are lagging behind
When it comes to women, they are still trailing far behind in capitalising on networking for their professional growth. One study showed that women are five times more likely than men to agree that they find it hard to network with senior managers and executives. Unsurprisingly, 41% of women find that their exclusion from informal networks is a barrier to their professional advancement. There are many reasons for this, some practical and some psychological, some of which are listed below.
Time is spent on working instead of networking
When you combine household chores and childcare into the number of hours of paid employment, women work 60-70 hours a week, according to a 2011 Pew Survey. This leaves precious little time to network, which is why it usually goes on the backburner. Women are spending time on working at their desks, achieving results and accomplishing tasks, rather than networking and top leaders in the industry recognise this as a mistake. Carol Bartz, former Yahoo CEO, and Lisa Lambert, founder of Upward, both agree that women should do less and network more given that leadership today is defined not just by how much you achieve, but your ability to connect to others.
Not making the best use of social media networks
Women shy away from using their social networks to advance their professional careers; usually because they feel it will portray them as being overly ambitious. This attitude is underlined by a study on use of social networking sites by gender. Though more women use social media sites like Facebook, Tumbler, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, more men use LinkedIn than women, which is the most important social media platform to build your professional network. So even though women are active on social networks, they hold back from capitalising on them for their professional growth.
Shying away from male networks
Women often stick together, united in doing things, and the same goes for networking. Although this is excellent in terms of gaining support, efforts should also be made to extend networking to include men, more so since there are more men in top executive level positions across industries. Take Venture Capitalism for example, it is predominately male, which means that more likely than not, women will have to pitch to male investors. By confining themselves to female-only networks, women end up restricting their access to senior-level sponsorship and relationships, which also means that women’s presence in those industries continues to be undervalued and under represented.
In a study on Women in the Workplace by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, which included almost 30,000 employees across 118 companies, it was found that women’s odds of advancement are 15% lower than that of men. The study showed that “Women and men agree that sponsorship is vital to success and advancement, with two-thirds describing it as “very” or “extremely” important. Yet they do not have the same type of professional networks, which may result in different levels of support.” A factor that contributes to this is that these male networks sometimes tend to have the mentality of a boy’s only club. This boy’s only club need not deter women from building professional connections with men; by learning from women who have found a way to break into the boy’s only club other women will see how it can be done and forge ahead as well. Share insider tips with your female networks and be open to connecting each other to the right networks that include men.
Networking certainly takes time and effort, and it will definitely require women to be more aware of where they are lacking in their networking efforts to be better at establishing connections. At Behind Closed Doors, we understand the value networking brings and we help women gain easier access to a large network of professional men and women. Women who have worked hard to overcome obstacles in networking are open to sharing experiences and advice in career building. If you’re looking to start improving your networking skills and establishing valuable relationships, behind closed doors is a good place to start.
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