3 Reasons WHY WOMEN (and even some Men) AVOID NETWORKING
While designing a leadership intervention for women professionals, a training need specifically identified by the MD of the organization, was ‘Networking’. He had noticed that the men who are potential leaders tend to actively invest their personal and professional time in building their networks with people who matter. Women, on the other hand, try to rely just on themselves, and seem to look at networking as a ‘time-waster’ or unnecessary activity. He felt that this acted as a setback for women, since their visibility was lower as compared to men, in the circuits that mattered. The same training need came up multiple times over the last 3 years, while discussing development inputs for women professionals, with various organizations, and hence, we decided to delve deeper into the topic.
The article, ‘Why women build less effective networks than men: The role of structural exclusion and personal hesitation’ by Elena Greguletz, Marjo-Riitta Diehl and Karin Kreutzer in Human Relations, can be accessed here. It highlights that ‘personal hesitation’ is one of the main barriers that makes women use networks less effectively.
Networking can be defined as “The ability to exchange ideas and information with groups and individuals that have shared interests, so long-term relationships are developed for mutual benefit”
We discussed about this with a few Indian women professionals, some of our participants in various training programs, and a few HR leaders. We found out, that nurturing of relationships comes naturally to most women, however they stay away from networking due to the following 3 ‘mental blocks’:
1. I fear being misinterpreted or labeled: Networking involves taking the initiative to talk to people whom you don’t know. Women often shy away from making the first move, i.e introducing themselves to an unknown person. This is a social fear, and a fear of being labeled as being ‘bold’ or ‘available’. However, if one learns the skills of ‘non-purposive’ communication, and makes every attempt to practice it, the chances of being mis-interpreted are lowered.
2. I am wasting time that should be spent with family: Networking events often take place after office hours, and one is expected to invest personal time in this activity. Most women think of personal time as family time, and feel guilty to invest after office hours in ‘office work’. It is often forgotten that exchange of ideas on common topics, lead to personal intellectual and emotional advancement, and this time should be invested upon for personal growth. In fact, it is often seen, that a network built around a mutual interest, actually serves as a solid support system during other dilemmas.
3. Why would he or she be interested in talking to me? The mutual benefit of a conversation is often ignored. In this case, women may have low esteem for their own achievements or opinions. Sometimes, they have not formed an opinion about something they are passionate about or aren’t prepared with data or evidences around that opinion. They may lack conversation skills and end up telling long-winded stories. Previous experiences of being interrupted by men or other women, may have hurt their ego or made them see their contribution to the conversation as less valuable. The key is, to develop the habit of keeping oneself abreast about latest developments in a few chosen topics. They could be hobbies or professional pursuits or something as common as parenting or social issues. It is important to learn how to express one’s opinion, with evidence and data, in an agreeable manner, as also to listen and build upon someone else’s opinion.
While Networking with those outside the organization has its own benefits, a good starting point could be – building the network with other women professionals in the organization. In the corporate world now, there are initiatives that promote women’s affinity groups. These groups explore topics like nutrition, health, parenting etc, that are commonly appreciated by women. But it often acquires the format of meeting on a periodic basis and calling an expert speaker to share insights on the topic. Facilitated group time during working hours, may help the women professionals to interact with each other in a structured manner and help solve each other challenges through shared experiences.
Anagha Wankar, a senior HR professional is an initiator of such a women’s group in her organization. In her opinion, when a women’s group is created in the work/ professional environment, the members of the group should leverage the group as a solid support system – not only for work but also for personal life. That would be a real indicator of success for such a group.
Nothing succeeds like success, as the adage goes. As more and more women start seeing the benefits of networking, and confidently indulge in exchanging ideas with new people, we hope that this will no longer be a training need identified specifically for women professionals. Till then, we are proud to bring to you, the “Discover-Own-ReachOut’ framework through Element78’s DOR program. The program starts on 8th, 9th and 10th February 2019 and continues until the month of May 2019. It facilitates the participant to take charge of work/life goals, by leveraging the group’s strengths and abilities. For those interested, more information can be found here.
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