If it hasn’t already been made clear, networking is something near and dear to me. Beyond the fascination of what can come from knowledge sharing and collaboration, being able to connect with others, and doing so effectively, as I have mentioned previously, has been a personal challenge.
In “Networking: How Men and Women do it Differently” I talked about differences in the networking behaviors of men and women, and touched on items like network size, utilization, and strategies. I also talked about access; specifically pointing out to the fact that access to the right people and networks plays a major role in receiving employment, mentoring, and career advancement.
In this post we will discuss race as a factor in networking behavior, with a focus on women of color. Women overall as we have seen, have less access to networking opportunities, often have smaller networks, and generally are not strategic in their approach to networking. This is especially the case for women of color.
Networking Access and Utilization
In understanding gender differences, it is just as or even more important to identify the racial factors that play a role in engaging in networking behaviors. Research has shown that people of color are at a disadvantage when it comes to networking for two main reasons (1) lack of access to, and (2) underutilization of professional networks.
When considering people of color who do participate in professional networks, most people of color, almost exclusively network with their own race. In studies that examined the differences in social capital from a racial perspective, it was revealed that people of color not only face inequalities in social capital externally with other races such as whites, but also internally within their own race.
From and external perspective, as a group, people of color almost exclusively use the social approach to networking. Their networks, while in some cases may be large, tend to be informal and include family, friends, and people within their community, e.g. churches and social clubs. Within these informal networks, there are hierarchies, which further prevents access to opportunity. Specifically, within a particular “community” or social group, those in the lower class have an even more difficult time attaining access. In more restricted groups, access is much harder, and more often than not, it is membership in these restricted groups that people of color need to obtain in order to be in a position to advance professionally.
The Disadvantages Women of Color Face
Women of color are especially vulnerable to being held back from career advancement because of the compounding factors of race and gender. The duality of race and gender, commonly termed “intersectionalty” has implications on not only networking, but the work environment as a whole. Research has shown that women of color in general, and in particular Africa American women, are most likely to be perceived as facing more unfair treatment in the workplace in relation to promotion and opportunities for training.
When you consider the challenges that women of color face simply by being a part of the workforce, thinking about networking from a strategic perspective becomes inconsequential. More often than not, the social approach to networking becomes the go to. There is a constant need for moral support to help deal with the obstacles faced in everyday work life.
Comparatively, women of color are the most disadvantaged when it comes to upward mobility, which we know can be facilitated with the right networking. Being given the opportunity to participate in more than just networking activities however, is required for career advancement. Before one can consider engaging in activities that will help them grow professionally they must first feel secure as professionals in their given organizations.
Creating Access and Equal Opportunity
Opportunities for women of color must be given across the board. This goes beyond networking to include training and development, mentoring, visible work assignments, and sponsorship. The unfortunate truth is, that in many cases, women of color forgo activities that will allow them to thrive because they are constantly trying to figure out how to survive.
Access is the key to opportunity. When one is given access, they are exposed, and exposure creates options, which in turn creates opportunity. The core of networking is collective collaboration, and successful collaboration requires inclusiveness. As leaders, we must foster environments that support the development of all of our colleagues.
We can help create access and opportunity by being open to connecting, collaborating, and creating valuable relationships. If you are in a position to mentor, mentor a woman of color. If you know of opportunities for personal or professional development, share them. If you are a decision maker within your organization and you know a woman of color with high potential, sponsor her. Be a part of helping develop someone. I guarantee that in doing so, you will grow too.
In my last post, I discussed the differences in networking between men and women, and strategies women (and men) can employ to network better. Finding the article insightful, a reader asked me to write a follow-up on networking strategies for those out of work looking to get back into the job market. For the most part, the core strategies remain the same. The difference is in how you use those strategies.
When seeking employment, your approach to connecting with new people and reconnecting with former colleagues and associates, has to be targeted. Because you are networking for career advancement, the strategic approach to networking will be your best bet. The social approach will help with coping with job loss or the stress of looking for work, but use your time wisely. Your energy should be put into connecting with those who can give you leads, or help you get a job, e.g. former colleagues or connections in the field you want to enter, advisors (these include mentors and former sponsors), and friends (only those who are employed).
Below are a few tips you may find beneficial as you embark on your networking journey.
1. Take advantage of EVERY opportunity that can connect you with the right people. In order to do this, you have to see an opportunity for what it is. YOU MUST PAY ATTENTION!!!
Let me tell you a story…
Not too long ago I was collecting data for my dissertation research. My research focused on identifying the self-limiting factors that prevent leadership emergence of women of color. Part of the data collection required soliciting participants for a survey. In trying to determine how to reach the greatest amount to people, I went to my professional network (LinkedIn) to ask my female colleagues for their help. I sent out a communication asking for 10 minutes of their time to participate in something that would not only help me, but in the long term, may prove to be beneficial to them as well. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Most responded by saying “Wow this is great, I would love to participate”, “I will definitely take the survey", "I can’t wait to see the results”. Then I received this response… “I don’t have time to take a survey, I need to find a job”. I will admit, for a brief moment, my feelings were hurt. But then I thought to myself… “Well if she needs a job, it might be beneficial to her if she helps me, since I'm in a position to help her. I work in Human Resources. I can probably help her find a job, or at least connect her with HR colleagues in my network.”
I imagine that had she taken the survey (seen the opportunity to connect with someone who could help her), we could have developed a stronger relationship, and I could have either helped her with her job search, or connected her with people who could.
Sometimes it is difficult to see opportunities for what they are. You can get caught up in the emotions and stress of being unemployed, that if an opportunity is not an actual job, you might not be open to it.
2. When an opportunity comes to pass... Show up!
When you enlist the help of people in your network, you are not only asking for a lead, you are asking for an endorsement. You are asking others to put their reputation on the line for you. The moment they say, my colleague, my mentee, my friend, is looking for a job, they are associating you with them.
I personally don’t believe in taking a job that you cannot see as a pathway to a career. When you do not see longevity in a job or role that you have, you will not give it 100%. Giving that 100% is what gets you noticed (most of the time), and can lead to career growth. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for income, but don’t go into food service if you know eventually you want to get back into financial management. Look for a “gateway” job, like an office assistant, bookkeeper, or accounting clerk.
Be upfront about what you are looking for. You don’t want a job that you will end up quitting because it’s not what you want to do. It makes you look bad, and it makes your connection look bad. Remember, your network is helping you so return the favor, show up, and do your best. If those in your network truly mean to help you, they will not steer you in the wrong direction.
3. Be prepared to make an investment so that you can get a return.
Just because you are unemployed doesn’t mean you stop engaging in professional activities, stop your membership to professional networks, or stop participating in communities of practice (CoP’s). Remember, these groups are where the people you need to network with will be.
Yes, there will be a cost associated with these activities, one that you might think you can’t afford, but you are investing in your future. The return could be connecting with someone who can help you find a job or kick-start your career. Investing in yourself and your own development shows that you are serious about taking the necessary steps to get back into the workforce. Others will see this and be more willing to help you get there. If you give the impression that you are hopeless, you will be treated as such, and you could potentially lose connections.
Remember, engaging in the five key behaviors of successful networking will prove to be the best thing you can do to get back in the game. Continue (1) engaging in professional activities. Join (2) communities of practice. Attending networking events will (3) increase your visibility. Get out there and (4) socialize. (5) Maintain contacts… they will come in handy!