Networking can be incredibly intimidating. The word alone makes me sweat and brings to mind laminated name tags, lukewarm coffee, and florescent lighting in a conference room while mingling with a bunch of strangers. But considering that 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking, networks are key when it comes to getting ahead in your career—a key that many women seem not to have mastered yet.
In an article for Inc, Jessica Bennett cites the research of The economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett who has shown that men are 46 percent more likely to have a higher-ranking advocate in the office. These relationships can prove invaluable, but women don’t seem to be making them at the same rate. How can women indulge in the same practice in order to help both themselves and their female coworkers succeed?
Don’t fear the women in your network—utilize your relationships.
It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly women seem to have a harder time advocating for their fellow females or networking with those around them. There are a few theories, for example, that women tend to spend their off-hours with their families instead of at networking events or that women feel they have to sabotage their fellow women in order to get a seat at the table themselves, which they don’t like. But those reasons tend to fall flat when really thought out.
After all, men certainly have families too, and the old stereotype of women undermining one another has run its course. (Although Bennett notes that “senior-level women who try to help other women at work are likely to face more negative performance reviews than those who don’t” so perhaps it’s not a completely outdated stereotype.) The truth is, though, many women just may not feel comfortable with the strategic feel of networking.
But networking is simply another way of saying helping other women get ahead. The easiest way to start networking is to think about how you can help other women get ahead. You don’t need to have fifteen years of experience under your belt to do that. Think about who you know who you could connect, or which of the talented women you know would be a great fit for certain projects at work or new job positions. When you switch your mindset from networking to lending a helping hand, you’ll be surprised at how easy it can feel.
If you’re up high, help uplift.
Higher up on the professional ladder? Look around your company and take note of the younger women in the office. Some ideas to start helping others reach your level of success:
- Start a monthly gathering where the newer women in your office are able to ask those who have been around longer questions.
- Create an optional mentorship program for newer women to get one-on-one time with more senior women to gain advice and wisdom.
- Invest intentionally in some of the newer talent within your office when it comes to offloading responsibilities or projects.
- Join your college’s alumni group to meet young graduates with similar passions and interests for whom you may prove to be a valuable resource.
If you’re down low, reach up.
Just getting started? You may need to be proactive when it comes to seeking out an advocate. Here are some avenues you could take to start effective networking relationships:
- Reach out to a more senior-level coworker and let her know you admire her work. Ask if she would consider allowing you to buy her lunch once a month in exchange for some mentorship.
- Most women are incredibly busy, and that includes the women in your office. Don’t waste her time by being unprepared when it comes to meeting. Try and be as specific as possible when asking questions instead of just throwing out the clichéd “Can I pick your brain?”
- Create a professional development group within your office or industry and invite in guest speakers.
- Be proactive and make sure you’re volunteering for things both in and out of the office, whether it’s a new project or hitting up a happy hour opportunity.
Foster real relationships
Lastly, when investing in your networking relationships, both in and out of your office, it’s important to view people as just that—people. Don’t enter into every single conversation thinking What can this person do for me? While it’s great to have goals, it’s more important to get to know someone on a human level. If you develop meaningful relationships, you’ll never know when you might see some kind of payout from that relationship, even if it isn’t obvious or immediate. Someone you met two years previously may recommend you for a new position. Someone you work with every day at your office could introduce you to a new skill set you’ve been meaning to learn. Almost every woman you meet has something to offer, and if you genuinely get to know them, it’s only a matter of time before it reveals itself.
By creating a culture of women supporting and uplifting one another within your workplace and industry, you’ll not only reap the benefits, you’ll have a lasting impact in the careers of others and make the workforce a more inclusive place.