By Colleen O’Sullivan, Senior Director, EMEA Customer Success at HubSpot
Networking can get a bad rap. The word itself brings up images of awkward cocktail hours and countless LinkedIn messages from strangers. But, research shows that 85% of all jobs are filled through networking, which proves that when done right, networking could be the key to reaching your next career goal.
As the Executive Sponsor of HubSpot’s EMEA Women@HubSpot employee resource group, I’m often asking myself how women can build effective networks to help grow their careers. For the past five months, I’ve now added a new layer to the question — how can women build effective networks to help grow their careers while working remotely? How can we network with intent, and see results as the future of work evolves?
Why the focus on women in particular, you ask? Research has shown that women network less than men, finding it to be unproductive and even calling it ‘dirty.’
Like it or loathe it, networking can be instrumental in a woman’s career growth, particularly now when the working world is changing so quickly. As Aimee Williams, Vice President, Content, Consumer & Business Services Division, IDA Ireland says, “Networking gives me access to sound advice on various topics to help me develop, so in those respects having a strong network is invaluable.”
There’s no doubt that the traditional way of networking — in a room, at a cocktail hour, at an event — will need to change. But, that doesn’t mean your commitment to building your network needs to change, too. If you’re scratching your head at the thought of navigating the world of virtual networking, don’t. Here are 4 ways women can still build their networks from home:
1. Make an Effort to Diversify your Connections
Networking offers ample learning opportunities…when you’re connecting with people who think differently than you do. Joanne Shea, Founder of 3P Energy Consultants has over fifteen years experience working in traditionally male-dominant industries, and encourages women to look beyond women-only networking groups for this very reason. “The reality is that women severely limit themselves to mentorship, job, learning and growth opportunities if they stick to ‘women only’ networks. Yes, woman-to-woman coaching is critical, but look around at the leadership structures. Best case, it is 50% men, 50% women. Don’t block yourself from learning from 50% of the professional population.”
To benefit from unique perspectives, diversify your network beyond your company, profession, background, race and even gender. How? The good news is, you don’t need in-person events to meet new people. Get started by finding and joining new LinkedIn groups, attending webinars on topics outside your field, or looking for partnerships with local organizations in your community. Recently, I expanded my own network through HubSpot’s collaboration with JobCare, a government sponsored program in Ireland that connects businesses with individuals looking for new opportunities through mentoring and coaching initiatives. I’ve learned so much already by connecting with people I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to meet.
2. Tell Imposter Syndrome to Take a Day Off
Studies show women with close ties to female peers, and a highly connected network are likely to have an average job ranking 2.5 times higher than those who are less connected. Yet many women shy away from networking or building connections altogether. In fact, in a recent Fortune article, Dr. Rosina Racioppi, CEO of Women Unlimited, revealed that many women choose not to send a connection request on LinkedIn out of fear of rejection, or fear of taking up someone’s time. Kaitlin Stoddard, Head of Customer Success, APAC at Facebook has to make a conscious effort to network both internally within her organization and externally. She advises women to “get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Find any opportunity to network to start building that muscle before you become selective.”
Virtual networking doesn’t have to be intimidating, in fact it can be more informal than an in-person event, and sometimes an easier way to build genuine human connections with distractions minimized. With the rise in virtual networking looking like it won’t slow anytime soon, my advice for those who are cautious is to tell imposter syndrome to take a day off. An estimated 70% of people have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers, so you’re not alone. And the truth is, remote work has brought out a more human and empathetic side in us all. People are likely to be more receptive to new connection requests or virtual coffee chat invitations. Now is the time to make your move.
3. Network with a Purpose
Showing up isn’t enough to have an impact on your career, you have to network with purpose to see results. For Miriam O’Keeffe, Member Network & Programs Director at the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, purpose means being prepared to have genuine human conversations. “That purpose is not to sell but to share best practices, to solve business issues, and to develop peer groups that last — as mentors, coaches, and even friends. Ensure that your network building is honest and transparent, only making connections where it makes sense to do so — because you met someone and really enjoyed a conversation; you have shared interests; or you can help each other.”
If you don’t already have networking goals that align with your larger career goals, think about what that might look like for you, especially in a virtual world. If you do have existing goals or targets set, think about how they might need to change to work in an increasingly virtual professional environment. That might mean adjusting numerical goals around making new connections or lead generation, or it might mean expanding your network beyond locations that in-person events previously restricted you to. Whatever your goal, identify what you need to do to reach it, factoring in the recent changes in networking habits. Then you can set a plan in place to make it a reality, and network with purpose.
4. Commit to a Long-Term Conversation
Building a network isn’t a one and done thing. Once you’ve put in the effort to build meaningful connections, it’s now time to nurture and develop those relationships. And this can be challenging with virtual networking if you don’t hold yourself accountable. Meaghan Williams, HubSpot’s Remote Work and Inclusion Program Manager says “One of the challenges with virtual networking is that it can be hard to continue the conversation long-term. If you make a valuable connection, don’t let distance get in the way. You can build on that initial interaction by taking notes on the conversation, following up periodically, and trying to balance the conversation to make sure both parties are getting an equal benefit from the relationship.”
There’s been a shift in how we think about our professional relationships, and for many, a realization that you no longer have to meet in-person in order to connect effectively. With a little discipline, it’s never been easier to stay in touch with your network, so commit to maximizing interim moments in your calendar to keep conversations and relationships alive long-term. This might mean creating time to purposely find new connections, setting reminders to reach out to your current network, scanning the web for upcoming virtual events and webinars, or scheduling recurring virtual catch-ups so that you’re always creating (and extracting) value in your relationships.
Working remotely certainly presents some barriers when it comes to connecting with new people. But with a little creativity and effort, you can build a strong network just as you would at networking events or in the office. Maybe even stronger. So while it can be tempting to push networking down your list of priorities, the impact of networking on a woman’s career proves its value. And with a recent Gallup survey showing that 59% of respondents want to work remotely more in the future, networking virtually is something we’ll all need to get accustomed to. Start small, use these four ways to build your network from home today, and say goodbye to those awkward cocktail hours.