Some Women Struggle with Networking
A woman in one of our leadership program bristled at the idea of strategic networking.
“It’s self-serving and political — and not who I am,” she said. She isn’t alone in her reaction.
“Many women resist networking,” says CCL’s Laura Santana. “The problem is that a network left to chance is not the network you need.”
Ignoring networks can damage or limit your career and leadership effectiveness — and this is true for both men and women. The right relationships and ties are known to be an asset in getting access to information, earning promotions, and gaining opportunities.
“Having the right network is a real differentiator — and it’s not about the number of contacts or connections you have,” explains Santana. “High-quality networks are open and varied, with people who don’t all know each other. They are diverse, crossing critical boundaries. And core relationships are deep, trusting, and mutually beneficial.”
A McKinsey study found that 50% of a company’s intellectual capital is a “relational asset” and 75% of individual capital is their relationships. And leaders with the right kinds of networks are likely to be high performers. In short, a network perspective is imperative for leaders.
But even if they know that building the right networks is important, many women struggle with it.
“It may be that women are hardwired toward deeper, more personal connections, so transactional relationships seem insincere,” says Santana, referring to the thinking of some evolutionary biologists.
So, if networking goes against your natural tendencies, you have some work to do.
4 Ways Women Leaders Can Build a Network
1. Know the common myths about networking.
Creating the right network is not about maintaining a big, expansive network or about schmoozing. What negative — and false — ideas do you hold about networking? You may be falling for one of these are 5 common myths about networking:
- MYTH: Networking is insincere and manipulative.
- MYTH: Networking is only about politics and getting ahead.
- MYTH: Networking is done when all of the “real work” is done.
- MYTH: Networking is about how many contacts you have.
- MYTH: Networking is for extroverts.
2. Understand your network structure.
Take time to list or map out your network. Are relationships operational, personal, or strategic? Close or distant? Trusting and mutually beneficial? Superficial and one-sided? Vertically diverse? Is your network heavy with people who are similar to you or to each other? Do they all know each other? Is your network outdated, just because it’s easier to avoid networking?
3. Think in terms of resources.
What kind of resources do you need to do your job, have influence, and advance your career? Who in your network has those resources? What resources do you need access to, but have no one in your network to help you obtain? Start with what you need most from your network right now. Then consider what you will need down the road.
One tip: for women, finding a sponsor — a senior manager with influence who will advocate for a promotion — is critical, but can be a challenge. Learn more about why women need a network of champions.
4. Develop your network by building, maintaining, leveraging, and transitioning relationships.
Strengthening your network doesn’t happen overnight. But once you are clear what kind of network is needed, you can begin by providing others value before you need resources. You can make choices now to build relationships that have value for the long term.
Certainly, you can grow your network by attending formal networking activities and large events.
But also think of how to embed networking into daily work, such as volunteering for a new project, scheduling one-on-one meetings, asking connections for introductions, or acting as a mentor. Socializing outside of work, having lunch with people not in your “inner circle,” and referring a person to someone else — being a connector — are all good options.
“Building the right network is key to leading effectively, getting results, and developing your career,” says Santana.
“You can learn how to do it and be genuine at the same time.”
Women need a network of mentors and sponsors to help them forge their own path and position them for opportunities. Download our free mentoring resources to help you find, or become, a mentor or sponsor.
Leaders participating in CCL’s Women’s Leadership Experience learn to understand their network biases, enhance their network with peers, and begin to build the partnerships, relationships, and ties that matter most.