“Your network is your net worth!” screamed the poster.
Anita took one look at it and wondered why anybody would spend their time uncomfortably hanging around in a room full of complete strangers, trying to make small talk when there were a million other things that could be done?
She is not alone. The ability to network and build new relationships, both inside and outside the organisation seems to be equally challenging for men and women. However, this challenge seems to have a more serious impact on women as ‘failure to network’ is often quoted as one of the reasons fewer women make it to leadership roles.
Why do most women think twice about stepping out of their circles and actively building new important relationships? We can hazard a few guesses:
· the opportunity cost –time to network vs time to complete one’s own work, time for the family and me-time
· the discomfort and lack of authenticity that one could feel while speaking to complete strangers in networking forums
· being in a situation where one could feel vulnerable or judged
Whatever the reason, women seem to be missing out by not actively networking. The fact that it was certainly not due to a lack of skill came up in the SheLeads workshop for our latest batch of women leaders. We discussed how, when it comes to the home, it is the woman of the house who usually knows where to go for what; who to call, who to rely on and who to avoid. This certainly is not possible without some active networking by them.
While there are ample resources on how to network in the corporate world, what is possibly stopping women from transferring this innate skill to the workplace is the simple fact that they do not want to. Helping women overcome this mindset could require changing their perception of networking itself.
Networking is often mistaken for frivolous socialising where a bunch of people hang around for the liquor and the food. In reality, networking involves focus, commitment and consistency; a hunger to learn and know more, an eagerness to help and confidence to ask for help. It requires the humility to be open to learning from others’ experiences and strengthening one’s own area of expertise.
The same holds true for networking inside the organisation. In the research that we undertook to strengthen our SheLeads programme, almost all senior women leaders credited their growth to having mentors inside the organisation. They had built their ‘tribe’ of people who they reached out to for a variety of issues, right from handling politics in the organisation to seeking direction on career opportunities.
It is said that, “the best time to build a network is before you actually need one.” Could we step out of our circle and get to really know the people who share our world? Start small – ensure we have a quality conversation with one new person every fortnight?
We could learn something that could be a game changer for us or our organisation. Even better, we could end up making a big difference to someone else’s life.