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.