Same Gender vs Mixed Gender Networking: the Pros and Cons

Same Gender V Mixed Gender Networking

It seems unbelievable that in today’s society only 14.6 percent of executive-level jobs are held by women. Research suggests that the reasons for this are not due to lack of education or experience, but because women network less than men. Traditionally, this has been because women have had less time for networking as they often had to balance home and family commitments with their working lives, or they don’t see the value in establishing networks.

However, a lot of women are simply intimidated by the idea of networking, especially with men. This is why women-only networking groups are becoming more and more popular. But do they actually help women in their careers?

Women Network Differently to Men

Many women feel more comfortable networking with other women due to their less aggressive, more nurturing networking style. Sue Weighell is a successful finance director and great advocate of women’s networking groups; she chairs two herself. She explains that “Women network very differently to men and tend to spend more time finding out about a person… They naturally want to support each other and this is a great benefit to those who work alone in their businesses.”

Mary-Jane Kingsland, chair of the Norwich Business Women’s Network in the UK, agrees, believing that men’s networking styles can be intimidating for women. “I think men are generally more aggressive about networking,” she says. “Very quickly in a conversation they’ll suss whether you’re interesting or not, and if you get stuck next to somebody who doesn’t think you’re interesting, that can be a blow to your confidence.” Women-only networking groups can help to combat this, by giving women opportunities within more nurturing environments.

Amina Malik, writing for Wolfestone, also points out that women-only networks can also help “women from certain ethnic backgrounds where they were not raised to mix with the opposite sex” to feel more confident about making contacts and progressing their careers.

Do Women-Only Groups Really Address the Issues?

Not all women in business agree that all women-only networks are productive. Women’s leadership coach Eleanor Beaton believes that too many women’s networking groups focus on the problems faced by women in business without offering solutions. Emphasis, she believes, should be placed on women being encouraged to make specific goals for each meeting rather than simply talking to one another.

“We’re in networking groups to network,” she points out. “If you haven’t left a meeting with a plan to make and receive at least one introduction or follow-up meeting for one of your fellow attendees, you’re not using your time strategically.”

Is It Discrimination?

Some businesswomen see women-only groups as a form of discrimination. One of these is lawyer Ruth Tibbett. “Imagine the outcry if men insisted on men only networking, we would all be picketing with placards!” she says. “I am surprised that we don’t have men objecting to women only networking and demanding to be involved.”

In fact, some women-only networking groups, such as Fabulous Women in the UK, have become so popular that they have now started admitting men as a result of the demand. However, male participants have to adhere to an inclusive approach with an emphasis on relationship-building rather than a hard sell.

Do They Offer Real Career Opportunities?

Arguments have been made that because men hold more high-level executive positions, women are restricting the opportunities available to them if they limit themselves to women-only networking. Lisa Torres, a sociology professor at George Washington University, explains, “Men tend to be in the top positions in organisations so, structurally, they’re in a position to hear about job opportunities or openings when they arrive, and circulate them to their networks.”

However, many women who belong to women-only business networks argue that they offer the opportunity to meet and be inspired by successful businesswomen who can act as role models, helping women to improve their networking skills and advance their business careers. Women regularly report meeting interesting and useful business contacts at all-female events. In some cases, women-only networks can give young women the confidence boost they need to start their own businesses.

The Importance of Both Perspectives

It’s true that both kinds of networking have their own strengths in terms of helping attendees achieve their goals. As such, one can argue that your motivation for attending each might depend on your objectives. For example, if you’re simply out to gain more confidence so that, in the future, you won’t be intimidated during a networking event, all-female networking might be better for you. If you want to take a more aggressive approach though on making connections or gain insights from both businessmen and businesswomen, mixed-gender networking might be more favourable.

One thing is clear though: Both kinds of networking yield results; it’s up to you to make the most of each. You have to have a clear set of goals and objectives before entering a networking event, whether it’s same gender or mixed gender, for you to maximise your time and opportunities.

At Behind Closed Doors, we understand the importance of both kinds of networking and help businesswomen gain access to a large network of business people that includes both men and women. If you’re looking for advice on forming professional networks and career growth, we’re always willing to help you out.

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2 thoughts on “Same Gender vs Mixed Gender Networking: the Pros and Cons

  1. You say “Many women feel more comfortable networking with other women due to their less aggressive, more nurturing networking style.” I say “Oh, if only!” Some women definitely need coaching on how to be more welcoming and friendly! I love networking and i love that others see it as a chance to make useful business contacts too – its not so much fun when women bully others though and I’ve seen that happen. Personally i have found men to be great, welcoming networkers and, of course, we want to network with all people in business – and that’s men too. There are always times when some people prefer women only events.I can see that, as you say, women who, due to cultural reasons, are not used to networking with men, may find a womens’ only network a great place to start. I say find the friendly networks and start there – go with a friend. I’ve found Hallett Cove Business Association one of the friendliest places to network.

  2. Pingback: Be Heard: Why Speaking Up and Building Relationships Matter | Behind Closed Doors

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