Tag Archives: Barefoot Executive

Women and networking: strategic or simply social?

 Another hornet’s nest 
Last week was a busy week for women!  It started off with Katherine Bigelow  winning an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker,  followed swiftly  by International Women’s  Day.  Much was written about women’s roles, the progress  they have made and the steps they could make in the future. Then the wives of the UK party leaders were launched into the pre-election build up as the political “hidden weapons”.  Finally,  sneaking in at the end of the week was an article in Times Online  ”  Why women are such bad networkers”  by Antonia Senior.

Initially, I read it  with disbelief and then truthfully with some  irritation!  Of course women are good at networking! What was she thinking when she said  “women are not natural networkers”? This statement was key to her premise that women are less prevalent in board room positions because of  their lack of “social capital”  (connections ) meaning that they are less likely to be head hunted  for senior positions,  because they seemingly know fewer people.   Other serious and more meaningful issues were glossed over  a little dismissively   as a ” range of complicated factors“. 

But then I thought about the wider implications.

Women network all day,  every day,  in all their roles , whether professionally, as parents,  as neighbours, as partners or socially. Do we really think that their failure to have a corner board room office is because of their reluctance to sip warm bubbly,  nibble inferior canapés  and exchange card ?  If it was so simple,  wouldn’t women  be sending in their RSVPs to the nearest cocktail party quicker than the preparation of an  “amuse bouche ” ?  

You would have thought so – but  seemingly they don’t. Why is that?

Naturally social
Women are generally natural communicators.  We are social. We keep in touch. We build relationships. We have address books packed with names.  We share information and make referrals willingly. We are active in all sorts of areas. But An de Jonghe, Managing Partner at  Women on Board ,  a Belgian initiative to facilitate women’s advancement to directorship roles in local enterprises,   says  ” … women are social  rather than strategic networkers and very often network, not for their own purposes,  but for the benefit of  other peopleMen network to meet their own professional goals.  Today,  it’s still a man’s world and we have to do everything we can to give ourselves an edge,  to raise our visibility , even if it means attending receptions we don’t want to go to”  

Social Media
Social media networking is perfect for women because it gives them the flexibility they need to combine key networking with other priorities and allows them to manage their ROR (Return on Relationships) and ROE ( Return on Energy) more  effectively.   The claim  that they have not embraced social media  for networking purposes to the same extent as men,  flies in the face of the latest research figures released by Nielsen Wire . Using mobile usage as a litmus test,  women’s on-line networking contact  is 10% greater than their male counterparts.   53% American women use social media with Facebook being the primary network of choice.  Twitter users are not required to register their gender,  but research has shown that women also lead the field in this sector too.  23 million women a year write, read and comment on blogs – the top of the social media pyramid.

Real questions
But once again these figures have a US bias rather than a European one.   In Europe, LinkedIn and Twitter penetration is lower than the US for example,  so there,  both male and female usage  alike,  is not as high   But millions of  women  globally use social media  for business purposes and anyone who is active on these platforms knows that!  Forbes and Technorati  have produced  lists  of women to follow in social media!  Penny Power of Ecademy,   Carrie Wilkerson – Barefoot Executive,   and Sarah Brown – just to name  a few more ladies who make intelligent use of social media.  Some of the most aggressive marketeers on social media I think are actually women!  

But de Jonghe  suggests that these women are unfortunately only the visible tip of the iceberg . She firmly believes that the vast majority of women use social media  for social reasons  and not necessarily for professional advancement.

Cyanide Hours
So why are  women absent  from  male orientated networking events ?    The after work cocktails, boxes at soccer games  or golf outings?   After work receptions are frequently held in what I used to call affectionately the “cyanide hours”  ( dinner, homework, bath, bed). The pressures on women not to attend these functions are huge.  But  they are also making choices on how to spend their time.   De Jonghe  feels that women need to take responsibility for sharing child care arrangements with their partners,   so they are able to attend such functions. But with the rise of single parent families with the mother as the primary care giver,  this is not always easy.  Networking is time-consuming and women with families are  simply not able to give up whole days to  participate in  the type of activities  that Mark Twain suggests  “spoil a good walk. ” 

Perhaps this is why women’s networking groups are proliferating  globally to connect with each other at various stages in their careers .  In Belgium  Jump has had a significant impact as well as the huge numbers of women’s networking groups in the UK, US and throughout the world  – too many to mention here. 

Effective Leverage
Another  issue  is whether women are  more likely to leverage an emergency babysitter or  a  reliable  plumber from their network,  rather than a leg up the corporate ladder to a C – suite position?  De Jonghe comments ”  Women tend to sit quietly and do a good job and hope to be recognised and discovered. They are reluctant to take the initiative in the way that men do”

 But networking is a two-way street.  If the thesis is that women are not networking with CEOs ( male)  then the converse is also true. It also means that head hunters are not being creative  and  in the pursuit of  “copy and paste” search methodologies,  are not opening up their own networks to female candidates.     With precious few women  hovering under board level,  the female talent pool is not huge and it would seem to be in everyone’s interest for that to happen.

The male way
However,   De Jonghe  makes  a further point that  “while the guys sit cosily in their Board level positions, they are more than happy that women are absent. They have no reason to change the system. The old-boy network works fine for them” 

So  will the ladies have to play the networking game by male rules to make any steps forward? De Jonghe believes so.     “Once they get those  Clevel appointments ” De Jonghe says  ” women can change the system – but until then , they  have to play the male game.”

In the meantime, while the status quo prevails, it would seem  that we  women have to be strategic and not just social in our networking efforts. Even if it involves being subjected to warm champagne .  

What do you think?