I have spoken to a lot of women in the course of building of Fairygodboss and I am continually surprised at how many recoil at the word “networking.” I ask if they do it and most will say “no” with a caveat that really means “yes” or “not as much as I should”. Here’s my take on unpacking these reactions:
1. “Yes, I network all the time” = This person tends to network because its actually part and parcel of their job description. They may be responsible for reaching out to the community, to partners, or responsible for business development or promotional activities. This person works for themselves or at a small company, in PR, in an events-related industry, or may be the “face” of an organization.
2. “No, I do something else” = This person does not like the negative connotations of the term ‘networking.’ They think it implies self-seeking or transparently self-promotional activity with little substance, e.g. the person you meet at a conference who just shoves their business card in your face as if they are in a race to give away the most number of cards by the end of the day. They tell me they try to get to know people they meet, and some are very friendly and even extroverted.
3. “No, I don’t network enough” = This person tends to believe in the value of building additional professional and social relationships but does not actively engage in the activity. Primarily, it hasn’t worked for her, or nobody has taught her what expectations to have, or how to even do it. This person can be introverted and often cites being too busy as the reason for low networking activity.
4. “No, its kind of a dirty word” = I have heard this from people who work in a field or position where its very “uncool” or professionally de-legitimizing to admit to networking. These tend not to be MBA graduates, and may even consider professional ambition to be uncouth. These women may work in creative fields, tend to shun fitting into a stereotype, believe professional success is just based on their immediate performance, or they see “networking” as a hallmark of the desperate, unemployed, and otherwise ‘needy.’
Based on my interviews, my guess is that most professional women fall into categories 2 and 3. In my own career, it took me too long to stop viewing “networking” as “selfishly seeking and self-promoting”. However, it took only one conversation, a single statement by a former male colleague, to change all of that. He said, “Let me know if I can ever help you with anything”.
As in any marketplace, you need both sides (the helpers and the help-ees). “Networking” means giving just as much — if not more — than receiving. Its about giving someone a hand, for no other reason than its at nice thing to do and in the big scheme of things, establishing a reputation for helpfulness will never hurt you — it can only help. You can start right now by joining our community!