Do women need to improve their networking skills?

Women networking Should women spend time to boost their networking skills?

There is a widely held belief that women are generally better than men at developing and maintaining relationships.

But many women seem unable to transfer those skills to the business world, where the same activity is commonly called "networking".

"Part of the cause is that women value authenticity in relationships," says Deborah Gillis, chief operating officer for Catalyst, a women's business research and advocacy group.

"Sometimes the notion of meeting someone and then looking to them for help, or advice, or contacts in business, often feels just a little uncomfortable. Men seem to do it much more naturally."

Experts have various explanations as to why this might be, but they are agreed on one important point - informal networks are critical to success, and more women need to learn how to benefit from them.

"Women need to think about networking as a business skill," says Ms Gillis.

"And just as we would focus our attention on developing other skills that are important to our success, we should spend time and care in building our confidence and ability to network effectively."

'Build relationships'

Start Quote

I've had to join men's networks because that's what was out there”

End Quote Vanessa Fox

But becoming a part of informal groups - especially those dominated by men - can be difficult, as technology blogger and consultant Vanessa Fox discovered when she left Google to start her own company in Seattle.

As one of the industry's few female experts on search engine optimisation, she had to overcome both professional and social barriers - and that meant learning how to play poker.

"I would go to these poker games, and I was always the only woman there," she says. "It's not that the men exclude women - they actually invited me - it's that women either don't know about [these activities], or they're intimidated.

"I think they have this idea that men can automatically play poker. But actually men can't play poker either, and a lot of women I know are really good at math - more so than the guys."

Vanessa Fox playing poker with male friends Vanessa Fox is the only woman at her poker games

But the game itself isn't as important as the conversations that naturally develop, she says.

"They tell you what their start-up does and what they're doing, and so you get to know people. And because of my experience, a lot of these guys then want to meet up with me because they want my advice - and that's when you start to build relationships outside of the more formal events."

Ms Fox is the first to point out that such an approach isn't for everybody, but adds that she had little choice.

"I've had to join men's networks because that's what was out there," she says. "The tech start-up world happens to be mostly men, and it happens that they want to play poker.

"They're not actively saying they're going to try to find a thing that women don't like - they just want to have a good time."

'One of the gang'

Sport has also become a popular networking tool for women.

Start Quote

Doing something that you're not interested in just to be with people ultimately creates an artificial founding of the relationship”

End Quote Jean Martin Employment expert

"If you can speak sport, talk sport, in an authoritative way where you actually watch it, and follow the game and you're passionate about it, it allows you to be one of the gang and gets you into the circle you can't get into any other way," says Susan Spencer, a former manager at American football team Philadelphia Eagles.

She says sport offers a "safe" subject for women to talk about with their male counterparts.

Ms Spencer adds: "If you go out for drinks you don't want to talk about politics, that's a deadly one, you're not going to do boy talk with a load of sexual innuendoes because that takes you down a road you don't want to go - it has to be sport!"

Jenn Harris has taken the idea a stage further with the launch last year of High-heel Golfer. Based in San Diego, she travels all over the country offering workshops to women who want to use the game to develop better business relationships.

"I don't think of the golf course as a man's world. I think of it as a place to learn about someone else," she says. "All the little things that happen are ways to see who that person really is - how do they react after a shot, do they cheat, do they have integrity? You can't get that over drinks at a happy hour."

Jenn Harris Jenn Harris says golf has greatly helped her business career

A keen golfer since the age of seven, Ms Harris cites her own experience as proof of the power of golf.

While working for a defence contractor she needed to get to know military commanders and other executives who all enjoyed playing. She joined them on the golf course, and attributes her subsequent success to the contacts she made.

"I was promoted within nine months, was put on every big project over the next two years, and later, when budget cuts were made, the clients made it known that I shouldn't be fired - all because of that relationship I developed on the golf course," says Ms Harris.

'Be true to yourself'

But employment expert Jean Martin says that unless women actually enjoy playing golf, the game is unlikely to be much use as a networking tool.

"The number one element of a successful informal relationship is that the individuals are true to themselves. So doing something that you're not interested in just to be with people ultimately creates an artificial founding of the relationship," she says.

The Philadelphia Eagles playing the Oakland Raiders Susan Spencer says knowledge of sport helps women become "part of the gang"

Ms Martin is executive director of human resources at CEB, a global business advisory company with headquarters in Washington DC. She says research has demonstrated that effective networking can increase business performance by 30%.

As a result, companies themselves are looking at ways to increase networking opportunities for women that highlights their different interests.

"Rather than everyone trying to be the same, all on the golf course together, our data suggests that companies which have a lot of people with a lot of different interests and perspectives are significantly advantaged," she says.

However, other studies still often show that professional women need to improve their networking skills.

A 2011 report by the Toulouse School of Economics in France concluded that a major factor behind female directors earning 17% less than their male counterparts was the fact they were less good at building a network.

The study found that in general the male directors had much larger networks of past acquaintances, while female directors instead focused on a few strong relationships.

As she tries to build her own business, Jenn Harris attends five to six networking events every week - but says it's important not to make new contacts if you don't have time to follow them up.

Vanessa Fox says she tries to be selective.

"It is work for sure, and in my case there are some events that I know I'll hate and I just don't go," she says. "I try to find things that are a little more of a balance that I can enjoy and find valuable."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Scientists are like animals. Senior men hold court with people whom they favour and flirt with junior women. Ambitious junior women often attach themselves to a senior man. Junior men network like crazy with each other and try network to with senior men. Senior women are often more approachable and helpful to juniors, but don't tend to actively network so much unless it advances their own work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    The take home message-

    When the jackals or hyenas rule, the lions too have to network -- even to survive.

    It's a matter of time before the jungle lose its ability to support wildlife, any wildlife- even the hyena king will be threatened (wish he had the talent to understand that).

    (remember the movie Lion King)!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Another major reason why Networking becoming so important- recruitment in jobs, contracts in businesses increasingly losing its transparency & efficacy. People have to be either an employee or a consumer.
    Our basic education system is also geared towards it. Original thinkers, genuine talents, natural leaders are not wanted at all if that's not supported by parental wealth & influence/power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.


    "Networking is essentially a means of creating/maintaining a cartel of those who cannot prosper by dint of the accomplishments alone"


    In a nutshell. My good lady is a first-rate creative technologist, gets further work by her results, and has no time at all for cliques with their ridiculous pecking-orders etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    On another HYS, the issue is spying, networking includes sharing/giving information. OK for sales, but not ok on development sides & even in sales, does one want to let slip something advantageous & then lose that advantage.

    Networking is a mild form of spying, gleaming whatever one can, from anyone stupid enough to give it away for nothing, or just smarming up the ladder

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    So, smarming your way in to someone's social group because they may be useful to your career prospects is seen as a good thing is it? I'm so glad I'm self employed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Women are highly attuned to non verbal communications.They not only have intuition, they can know what's going on in a man's mind and they can communicate with each other without talking(although you'd hardly know it from how much practice they get at talking.)They also are more sneaky and oblique then men.Men by contrast are simple minded, clueless, direct, and obvious.We can't win against them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    I can't say I agree with the article - playing poker can have disastrous consequences for your career.
    The truth is, organising an office strip poker evening is frowned upon, and I have the email from HR to prove it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    The most important thing is to be good at your job.
    Networking and having a public profile are important but it can be overdone.
    You need to be in the office/factory, visible and available to assist.
    Don't most women prefer working for a man?
    I've never had a poor female manager but I've had a couple of appalling male ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    I note the article never mentions the fact that it is almost always the inevitable cat fur hanging in the air that chokes any productive long-term working environment or career relationships !!

    ... (as I tip toe around my female dominated office... I can't wait to get away from them on the golf course)

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    That Jenn Harris can't be very good at golf - look how close she is to the clubhouse - must be in the rough?
    Perhaps if she looked at the ball rather than grinning inanely she wouldn't shank her shots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    I think we should make our wives and daughters engage in networking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    What a load of tosh beeb. Networking is about getting to know/trust your colleagues/work environment/competition and has as much to do with a quick pint or a lunch in the park, as it does with golf or poker. It should have nothing to do with gender, but is essential to doing a good job (unless you work in total isolation). Really, grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Frankly who cares??

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I think you'll also find that the vast majority of men who do not play golf or poker are also disadvantaged in the "network" and rarely make it to senior positions. They too find when turning up to meetings intending to make decisions at the meeting find the decisions have already been made on the golfcourse, in the bar the night before or over a "working breakfast" they never knew about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Much of the machismo culture of the business world came about due to the absense of the stabilising influence of women. Egotistical male posturing and one upmanship is one of the most depressing things about many businesses. Women should have more sense than to indulge in what is largely a display of personal insecurity and self doubt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The best people for the job should be selected whether they be female, black, asian, gay, disabled or whatever. And if those selections mean a business ends up with an all white, european, able-bodied male team then so-be-it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    32 Minutes ago
    I don’t know about everyone else but I loathe all of the pretentious PC office/mgr speak

    Yep - 'Touching Base' - very dodgy behaviour behind the bike sheds. Probably illegal.

    It's never the work, rarely the job that is a pain, but the carp that you have to put up with.The absurd way that people behave - the reality makes The Office look like Chekhov.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    In my experience the type of individuals who get ahead through networking are invariably clueless schmoozers who spend the majority or their time floating between meetings and business lunches, talking the talk, stroking the ego of their superiors and intimidating their subordinates whilst delivering precisely zero business value.

    This isn't something for either men or women to aspire to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Another BBC HYS devoted to rubbish, rather than relevant articles we, the public should be discussing.

    BBC censors are worse than ther Stasi.


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