In a previous article, we defined networking, identified important networking behaviors to engage in, and discussed why networking is important. In this post, we will focus on factors that impact networking behaviors which, according to some research may include gender, race, socio-economic background, personality traits like extroversion and self-esteem, and general attitudes toward workplace politics.
Specifically, this article will focus on gender through an examination of how men and women differ in their networking behaviors, as well as provide some advice on ways women (and men) may be able to improve the value they get out of networking.
Research has shown that women face significantly more barriers to networking than men. This is important to take note of because access to networking plays a major role in receiving employment, mentoring, and upward mobility. In addition to differences in access, another major difference includes the size of networks. Men generally have larger networks than women and are often comprised of colleagues, advisors, and friends. Conversely, women’s networks tend to be comprised of familial and community relationships.
The most significant difference is the difference in how men and women use their networks. It has often been found that men more frequently use networks for career promotion, while women use networks for social support. These two approaches to networking are referred to as the strategic approach and social approach respectively.
Strategic Approach vs. Social Approach
The strategic approach to networking is just that. This approach employs a strategy with the specific end goal of gaining something that will improve your employment situation. Whether you are already employed and looking to advance or are unemployed and are looking for an opportunity to gain employment, a networking strategy will help get you where you want to go.
The social approach to networking is when you seek a group of individuals simply to connect with. There is no specific goal other than to get to know people to perhaps share ideas, stories or talk about common passions. The social approach is generally the first step in networking.
Let’s not assume that the social approach to networking is a bad thing because it is not. However, if your goal for networking is career promotion and advancement (which as growing professionals it should be), you need to take a strategic approach. Women often tend to have difficulties moving out of the social aspect of networking. If you consider the difficulties women have with accessing the necessary people to network with for career advancement in the first place, you can understand the difficulties in taking steps toward a strategic approach.
Taking Steps Toward a Strategic Approach
Keep in mind that the strategic approach should be employed both outside and inside of your organization. For women who are already employed and looking to move up within their company, focusing your strategy inside of your organization should be your goal.
Strategic networking inside your organization provides many benefits. When you network within the organization you are more likely to receive information you would not otherwise be privy to. Take note… you might have to network with colleagues you wouldn’t necessarily care to connect with outside of the office. Have lunch with them, go to a happy hour, use the social approach to networking as a strategy! Let people get to know who you are (professionally), so that they can know who you are. Increase your internal visibility!
Being a part of the conversation will give you access; especially access to those who have influence within the organization.
For those who are looking to make moves outside of their organization focus your strategy there. Engage in professional activities. Join an industry group or participate in a Community of Practice (CoP). Research movers and shakers in areas that you want to move into. They will often be special guests or speakers at events… go to those events. Introduce yourself, socialize with them and the people around them, exchange information, and don’t forget… Maintain Contact!