Is networking unnatural for women?
Ladies, are your lives are jam packed? Are your workdays so busy that you don't even have time to catch your breath? Are you one of those people who naturally answers 'No' to the question 'Will you be attending networking drinks?'. The importance we place on networking is very fluid, it's heavily tied to our mindset, life circumstances and personal career trajectories at the time. But what if your intent to connect to others isn't for self promotion, maybe it's just to find like minded people, your people, to find a mentor and maybe find new friends. And if you shuddered at the term, self promotion, you probably don't like to network and you probably don't like recognition for your work. If you are not sold on the idea of walking into a room, filled with strangers and making small talk with them, you're not alone.
I came across this article on Forbes.com, Why Women Aren't Networking And 7 Ways To Fix It and thought, is this really something we should fix? It is a great read for tips on how women can support other women to network and how men can encourage and build our confidence in developing this skill. I refer to networking as a skill, because it is! Do not think it is an innate ability, if it feels foreign to you, that's completely normal. We also need to recognise that men generally feel comfortable with this method of social communication because they use it to connect with mainly, men. You may have heard networking referred to as 'schmoozing' or 'working the crowd' and this insinuates inauthentic relationships for the purpose of moving up the ladder. Hey, if that's what you think networking is, you're going to burn some bridges very quickly!
Networking may never become comfortable for you but the intent behind the act should help you to become motivated to get to know others. So, how do we make networking more meaningful and allow it to open doors for cultivating authentic, supportive and long lasting working relationships? And how do we address our hesitations about goiong to a networking event in the first place? I've got some ideas to help you:
I don't feel comfortable approaching strangers
This is a big one. When we are little, we are told to stay away from strangers and then we become adults and suddenly, its supposed to feel second nature to us. Ridiculous, right? Don't forget about our personal insecurities either, ie. body image, self confidence, introverted, shyness, thinking we have nothing valid to say, thinking we have a lack of experience or knowledge on a topic area..., let's just say we have many reasons to feel uncomfortable.
I don't have a business card
This is a dilemma when you meet people who are used to the traditional methods of networking. I've been working in education for over a decade and this year, I received my first batch of business cards from my employer - and that's because I requested them. If your work doesn't provide a business card for you, ask them. The worst they can say is no. If they ask why you need one, tell them you get asked for one when we meet people from other organisations and wanted to help promote the company you work for. You could easily take down the details of the person you're speaking to (usually an email will suffice), I've done this plenty of times using Notes in my phone and sent them a follow up email later on. Most of us rely on our email signature as the means for others to contact us, there's nothing wrong with using what you're normally comfortable with. Here's a suggestion, you could create a graphic as a digital business card using a free online tool like Canva and send that via Airdrop or a message. The most important thing is the follow up soon.
Your follow up message could look something like...
Hi [insert name], it was great to meet you at [name of event] the other [day/week]. I was interested in your involvement in [insert something from your conversation that they shared with you] and wondered [insert a question about the topic, their advice or about connecting to another person they know].
I don't get the opportunity to meet other people.
Our survey reveals that ed/it women have joined our community to connect to one another. Some of them, due to the lack of opportunity from their employer, or time due to family or personal commitments. Most of us who work in the education sector, don't work in isolation. Your internal networks (which include your colleagues and their family and friends), can help you to meet new people. This is why we started ed/it women co., to encourage you to connect with other people who can support you in your endeavours. We truly hope that you form strong bonds with the women in our network, please don't go it alone. When we do things together and lift each other up, it benefits all of us to see more women in positions of success and leadership in the education and tech community.