Women: Networking Is Not a Dirty Word

Why is it that women are sometimes ashamed to admit to networking? Why is it that women are not as efficient as they could be when they’re so good at connecting people in their private lives? Why is it that networking feels almost ‘dirty’ to them?

Women are (taught to be) the more social of the two sexes. They spend time with friends, make plans to see relatives and talk to their neighbours! In their private lives they will go to great lengths to help a friend prepare for a job interview or connect a relative with the best osteopath they know. One would expect them to be natural born professional networkers as well. But they’re not: when it comes to business, men are savvier social networkers (even in the cosmetics industry!), according to a study from LinkedIn. Women spend less time networking, both at professional events and on social networks.

LinkedIn is majoritarily dominated by men (more than 60%). On other social networks, the difference is no less striking: women use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram essentially to share private features and stay in touch with family or friends, whereas men use social media more to gather information and build influence. Although women use social media more than men on average, men are better at turning their social media use to their professional advantage.

It turns out women have at least 5 reasons for not being as network-savvy when it comes to work:

1/ Women feel more guilty about doing something that doesn’t feel productive. Networking doesn’t feel like work. Doesn’t it make more sense to get some real work done instead?

2/ Often, women have less free time, especially when they have children. It’s a fact, there’s often little time left after a double shift. Add to that the fact that mothers feel more guilty about ‘abandoning’ their children (that’s a lot of guilt for just two points).

3/ A lot of women find the idea of professional networking somewhat repulsive, almost ‘dirty’ even. Is it because women doing something to advance their careers are perceived as manipulative and bitchy?

4/ The introverts among us tend to see networking-oriented interactions as fake, or boring, or both. Many women genuinely prefer to socialise with friends and family and relax from work when they can. Could it be because a lot aren’t having enough fun at work? Or that they lack the necessary ambition? That’s part of what Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In message is about.

5/ It’s not all their fault: some of the networks are dominated by men and not as inclusive as they claim to be (Many women complain about the creeps that contact them on LinkedIn).

But there are more reasons to look at networking in a whole new way. Here are the most compelling ones:

1/ Networking IS work! Increasingly the value we bring to our work will rely on our ability to produce empathy, i.e. to understand people and connect with them. Heck, soon enough, that’s ALL we will do at work because we will have been replaced by robots and AI for everything else. Networking isn’t about advancing one’s interests (although that’s a nice side effect), it’s about creating value with people. And creating value is what work is about. There you are.

2/ There isn’t one way of doing it. Introverts make fantastic networkers both online and in small gatherings. They are more empathetic, are better listeners and bring more authenticity to the whole thing. And being authentic is essential! Fake relations make a network weak and worthless.

3/ Socializing, even with our friends, IS networking. In fact a strong network starts with the people we genuinely like. The line between private and professional networks should be blurred, because we are happier and more effective when we work with people we like. So next time you go see an exhibition with your friends, think of it as networking!

4/ Female networking changes the very nature of the work we do. It creates “that space where professional boundaries are softened by personality. Networking generates more opportunities for everyone but it’s also what makes our jobs enduring and fun.

5/ Increased female networking will help women (and men!) finally find the role models they need. There is a lot of room for women who aren’t Sheryl Sandberg. In fact slightly less top-of-the-pyramid figures are less intimidating, sometimes even more inspiring and as impactful for future generations.

6/ There are fantastic new (and old) female networks out there. Some are connected to universities, others to a particular sector or profession. There are over 450 female networks in France alone. Female networks can make many women feel more comfortable because we feel we are not being judged as much and can actually get down to business more effectively. Or we feel we can get to speak more and not be sidetracked as much.

There’s nothing ‘dirty’ about networking. It’s what the future of work is all about. Networking is about developing those skills that are going to be increasingly indispensable to tomorrow’s workers, like empathy. It’s about giving and paying attention to others. Bitchiness can’t be a part of it!

We should learn to enjoy it more and come to understand that it’s ultimately a mere extension of what a lot of us tend to do naturally in our private lives.

This article is the first in our Feminalink collection. Click on if you like it, and start networking by sharing it!