When I was in corporate, I used to hate networking.
Although I knew that it was important, I thoroughly neglected my network. I had plenty of great colleagues, and I was busy. I didn’t see the need for networking. I didn’t have time for it.
I didn’t realize what an untapped resource I was ignoring. I fell into the same mindset traps that most people do.
Why we avoid networking
Like corporate Me, most people dislike networking, and the reasons are many.
It doesn’t suit introverts.
The payoff is nebulous—some conversations have no immediate outcome.
We wait until we need something, and then we feel needy when we’re networking, as a result.
And because we frame networking as something that serves ourselves, it gets pushed to the bottom of the list—especially for women, who tend to put their needs last by default.
Why women should build their networks
Networking really does improve exposure to career opportunities. But women are 28% less likely to have a strong network than men (LinkedIn 2020).
But women who invest time in energy in building their networks do it the way that women do best: in a highly relational way that moves beyond transaction and builds connection. Women who dismiss networking as self-serving, awkward, and transactional are missing an opportunity to do it differently–playing to their natural strengths, and creating rich networks that move beyond the transactional.
And yet, women have always built relationships as a strength, but when it comes to creating their own networks, it tends to fall into the same fate as self-care: something that is nice if we can get to it, but not “mission-critical”.
But the truth is, because of those relational superpowers, women have the potential to take networking beyond the transactional. Out of the space of “this feels gross because I have neglected these relationships until now when I (desperately) need them”.
Debunking the misconceptions about networking
Misconception: Networking feels transactional and therefore “icky”.
Reality: It doesn’t have to be transactional. Networking can lead to deeper friendships rooted in common career interests and values. And in any case, if you start from a place of service, or helping others, you will quickly find that people respond in kind and before you know it, what once was transactional is now reciprocal. Totally different vibe.
Misconception: Networking takes too much time.
Reality: Like lots of good habits, it’s more about consistency than about the total time invested.
Misconception: Other senior leaders have it all figured out. They don’t need me the way I might need them.
Reality: Leaders are human and need connection with others to do their best work. The expression “it’s lonely at the top” exists for a reason. All the more reason to expand your network of women in leadership outside your organization. We all need people we can turn to, who understand what we are going through but who are not “in it”.
Misconception: I should be focused on my job, not my future. (ie: it feels a little disloyal to be networking).
Reality: Building a strong, connected network helps you in your current job by exposing you to new thinking and solutions. This, in turn, helps your organization. And, yes, it helps future you land your next job.
Misconception: I have to be a LinkedIn maven in order to network.
Reality: LinkedIn is a great place to start, but most keep those relationships very superficial. The kind of network that accelerates your career and enhances your career satisfaction is filled with real people, opportunities for deep conversation, and idea sharing. You have to go offline and build those relationships, person by person.
Misconception: It’s Chief or bust.
Reality: Chief has a waitlist of over 3,000 women. If they haven’t called your number yet, no need to sit on your hands. There are alternatives, including virtual networking groups and groups led by professional coaches.
It’s time to take a fresh look at your network
What does your network look like? Is it highly skewed towards your own organization? Is it superficial—measured by the number of followers or connections on LinkedIn, but not backed up by actual human dimension? Maybe it is time to invest in yourself by investing more in your network.
I now have a robust network of people I can count on, and whom I have helped as well. My network has helped shape my business and many of the decisions I make within it.
Are you a woman in senior leadership who is successful but feels isolated? Are you contemplating a career transition but feel stuck and not sure where to start? Contact Wendy Hultmark, ACC, about an opportunity to join a group of women in senior leadership for coaching and peer connection, support, and advice.
Wendy Hultmark, ACC, is a coach who helps women leaders get what they want from a career they love. Learn more at www.wendyhultmark.com.