Does networking work for women? (Guest Commentary)

Men make contacts or close deals, while women want to build relationships

Meeting one contact can often change the course of a person’s life or income level or expand career opportunities. In business or professional environments, men have won the game of networking on their terms. Men tend to have a mission when they attend a business networking function, such as making contacts or closing a deal. Women prefer a slower approach designed to build a relationship.

Over the decades, men have enjoyed a variety of business network settings, including the golf course. Their objectives are clear. Play golf (and actually win), make contacts and close deals. Although many women are now enjoying golf, they have not found the time in their busy schedules to get to the course often enough to play well. When I asked women what they thought of networking (especially with regards to their careers), they felt traditional networking was awkward, too forward or pushy. So they often don’t use this option to further their careers or get included in certain circles. Women tend to prefer workshops, conferences or learning environments where they can share ideas and connect with each other at a slower pace.

Women have a strong preference for sharing, caring and collaboration. If they attend a networking event, and feel they are being “sold” too quickly without an opportunity to build a relationship first, they have a tendency to retreat. Many professional career women find networking organizations geared toward finding sales opportunities a turn-off and won’t go back.

Women often leave networking events after talking to just one or two people, rather than “working the room.” If they haven’t been formally trained in sales, they may make a couple of strong connections, but not necessarily for the reason they attended in the first place. Many will feel the effort was worthwhile if they were able to help someone else, even if they didn’t get anything out of it personally.

Traditionally, women in the workforce don’t see the need to network to further their career, increase their earning potential or find something they’d prefer to do if they are in a dead-end job or just find their current role boring. They find themselves in comfortable positions, and many outside of the sales or marketing arena who don’t need to worry about earning revenue for their company don’t see a need to go and meet others.

But that’s a dangerous route. What happens if there is downsizing, layoffs or limited opportunities for advancement? Or if the woman wants to transfer to another area within or outside the company? Networking and making connections is crucial.

Also, women typically don’t compete openly for promotions and often wait to get “noticed,” trusting someone will see the work and contribution they make instead of being proactive and becoming visible. Networking, volunteering and getting involved in an association, group or membership is a good way to step out of the crowd and get noticed.

There are many fabulous networking opportunities for women that target and meet their needs. But many of them focus on providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to meet and conduct business with each other, not necessarily with a focus on career or professional development.

Many large corporations have begun helping employees start their own women’s networking groups to help with the advancement of women, and kudos to them.

Helping women network also makes good business sense. A recent study out of the United Kingdom showed that companies with a high representation of women in their top management ranks performed much better financially than those without — a 35 per cent higher return on equity and a 34 per cent higher total return to shareholders, according to Brighter Boards for a Brighter Future by Laura Tyson, dean of the London Business School.

Frustrated with trying to find good networking events, women are starting their own. This is how Weight Watchers started, when Jean Nidetch founded it more than 40 years ago. Frustrated with weight-loss programs that didn’t meet her needs, she began inviting friends over to discuss their weight issues. Now millions of women meet weekly and are successful in their common goal as they learn, research and share. The Internet is also connecting women in unprecedented ways, using blogs as a way to share common themes and goals.

Networking helps build sustainable careers on many fronts. Women have to ask, “What have I done lately to meet the people who share my interests and can help me and, in turn, what can I give to help them?”

Networking for women is about relationships. Sometimes they last a lifetime, a career or even just an evening, Women need do to their research, find a group that fits and join. It will change their lives, their outlook and even their income.

Elaine Allison is an international speaker and the author of The Velvet Hammer, PowHERful Leadership Lessons for Women Who Don’t Golf. For an example of online networking, feel free to join her blog at

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