Networking for Success
Recently I attended a business cocktail party where private companies were meeting with venture capitalists and investment bankers. I didn't know anyone, so I walked around looking for a friendly face in the group feeling self-conscious and out of place. I needed to be at the event and I really wanted to meet some of the people who were part of the evening. I would have frankly been more comfortable at a bar asking strangers about their astrological roots, but instead I forced myself to be sociable forging a bargain with myself that if I met two people and exchanged business cards, I could leave.
According to a survey conducted by the Bolton Institute, businesswomen tend to be restrained and unassuming while networking with their male counterparts. The survey data showed that men go for any business opportunity when networking regardless of their skill level. Equally, men place a higher emphasis on their business/career strategy then women. That is why male mentors can be of great help to women wanting to succeed in the old boys networks when the mentors willingly teach strategies of money-making instead of self-promotion. Women are more concerned about the image they present to the public than necessarily promoting their business venture.
With that in mind, I did wander over to a table where a group of men were sitting eating appetizers and drinking martinis. There was an open seat at the table and I asked if I could join them giving some excuse about my feet hurting. I struck up a conversation with a few of the men and made a comment about the small quantity of women at the party (actually I hadn't seen any other than the waitress). Every guy at the table chimed in and told me that they think women are really bad at networking. One man mentioned that trying to talk to a businesswoman at a networking event takes him back to his days in college when he was at a frat party trying to hook-up concerned about ridicule and rejection. He said that women are just too standoffish and guarded. Another man added that women usually will only talk to other women viewing us as sexist, secretive and discriminatory. I didn't have much of a defense to their suppositions -- but it did get me thinking about why I don't like to network and how other businesswomen I know would rather visit the dentist than be cordial over cordials.
Women know there are hidden barriers in networking often referred to as the "old boy's network," but the problems women encounter with networking are greater than the glass ceiling. Women socialize with people that they enjoy and focus on personal relationships over helpful business connections and find it difficult to associate with individuals that we don't care for. The goal must be to put business connections above his personal preferences.
Women make conscious choices about the people they do business with from their employees, vendors, and even their customers. Somehow as a gender, women are missing out on the practice that men have perfected of relating to people they don't necessarily like. It just isn't good enough to handle business associates who are not favorites with a professional yet brief encounter. The key to good networking is to stop making quick categorical decisions about people and to be slow to judge. Before jumping to personal evaluations, ask yourself what you might have in common with this person and begin asking questions of them to find a mutual interest which you can tie back into how your professions can benefit one another.
Networking is such a central key to the process of attaining success and women who network with other women can't afford to overlook the traditional male networks. The most powerful networks can make a business. It is true that we all like to do business in our own image with people we are comfortable with and this is true for the "old boy's clubs," but their number one commitment is to the pursuit of profit. As women increasingly manage and own high revenue businesses, they are more accepted into influential networking circles and must put personal preferences aside and be comfortable hobnobbing in the most powerful networking groups available.