Ask The New Girls: Networking

Ask The New Girls: Networking

Ask The New Girls: Networking

Dear New Girls,

I just wondered what you feel are the differences between how men and women network in a business environment.


Need to Know More About Networking

Dear Need to Know,

We are so glad you asked, because networking is super-important.

Here are some key insights about men’s and women’s networks.

  1. Men’s networks tend to be of men, while women’s networks typically include both men and women. Male networkers reach out to men for both for emotional support and for strategic purposes, whereas women reach out to men for strategic purposes, but reach out to women for emotional support.)
  2. Certain networking tactics, like engaging in professional activities outside of the organization or taking on committee work within the organization, tend to lead to promotions for men but not for women. In substantial part, this is because men tend to be offered positions in more prestigious internal and external groups, and are more likely to negotiate for higher compensation when taking on additional responsibilities.
  3. Women whose organizations see them as having high potential are more likely than other women to actively seek out other women. These same-sex ties may be crucial to helping these women navigate bias and other obstacles in male-dominated fields.
  4. High-potential women tend to have stronger ties than low-potential women. The basic principle in networking is that weak ties (connections with people you don’t know well; a friend of a friend, or your roommate’s uncle) are more effective than strong ties. But people in insecure positions, like women in male dominated fields, need strong ties to counteract the effects of bias. Strong ties, including sponsors, are helpful for women trying to establish their legitimacy within an organization.
So what do you do with all this information? Here are seven important lessons:

  1. Networking with peers is about the exchange of favors. When networking with peers, make sure it’s reciprocal over the long term. The obvious example is where two people help each other’s careers. If that’s not in the cards, be creative in thinking up what you can give of value—even if it’s only a heads-up about where to get fabulous shoes or the babysitter who always comes through for you.
  2. Networking with mentors. Remember, if the person’s wise/powerful enough for you to want them to mentor you, they probably get mentoring requests all the time. It’s better to ask for something very specific – can you introduce me to X or can we go together to Y –rather than to plop down in their office and say, “Can you be my mentor?”
  3. Avoid random acts of lunch? If you are short on time, or introverted and would rather be home reading a book, be analytical about who can be helpful to you, develop a strategy to meet them, and follow up. (You can even set up a plan to contact that person, say, three times in the next year, and put that on your calendar.) The other approach is to network with lots and lots of people on the theory that you never know when a contact might prove helpful. This is true: you do never know.
  4. Your networks should include people both within and outside your organization. Sometimes you need to discuss things with someone who knows the players and the politics of your firm. Other situations are so delicate that it’s best not to discuss them with your colleagues.
  5. Don’t forget to network with men. As noted above, women’s networks tend to pay off less, in significant part because it’s men who hold most positions of power.
  6. Is it icky to mix business with friendship? Women often feel more self-conscious than men about making business asks of their friends. That’s because women, more than men, see friendship as about emotional support. But think about it: if someone is your friend, shouldn’t she want you to succeed? And you will help her do the same.
  7. Child-related networking. Don’t assume that because you meet someone outside a work context, they cannot be helpful to your career. The parents of your children’s friends (if you have children) are not off-limits. Don’t be mercenary, but, remember: networking is about helping each other out.

Got a problem you want help with? Then Ask The New Girls!

Ibarra, Herminia. (1997). “Paving an Alternative Route: Gender Differences in Managerial Networks,” Social Psychology Quarterly 60 (1): 99-102.
Ibarra, Herminia. (1992). “Homophily and Differential Returns: Sex Differences in Network Structure and Access in an Advertising Firm,” Administrative Science Quarterly 37 (3): 422-447
Bass, Daniel J. (1985). “Men’s and Women’s Networks: A Study of Interaction Patterns and Influence,” The Academy of Management Journal 28 (2): 327-343.
Forrett, Monica L. & Dougherty, Thomas W. (2004). “Networking Behaviors and Career Outcomes: Differences for Men and Women?” Journal of Organizational Behavior (25): 419-437.

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