Why don’t women network?

Over the course of my career, I have seen a huge discrepancy in the number of men and women attending networking events. I doubt this would surprise people though it does show a worrying trend.

My concern is that this trend permeates the younger generation. Given the demographic of LTS (Young Professionals), the high male to female attendee ratio is surprising. It seems to imply that women may not appreciate the value of networking, don’t have the confidence to put themselves in networking environments or simply do not enjoy networking.

Regardless of the reason, the impact on our society is that if this does not change, there will always be a minority of women in senior positions. The result of this is far reaching, in terms of both economic and social progress.

In professional services, we are often told that work is driven by relationships. And building relationships takes years. So why do we not start building these relationships at the beginning of our careers? In order to progress and reach those senior positions, we need to be able to bring in work and are told time and again to “use our networks”.

I set up LTS to help Young Professionals build their contacts from the beginning of their careers and to gain some CPD. Even though LTS events are open to all, there are significantly more men taking advantage of the opportunity to develop their networks. This becomes even more interesting when you consider that women are said to be more social than men. Which begs the question – are women just less interested in their careers?

The above is definitely a generalisation and I am aware that plenty of women are career minded, however based on the attendees to LTS events, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. At one event last year, apart from myself as host, all attendees were male. Ladies, I think you will agree that given our vehement arguments for fair pay and gender equality, we do not appear to be helping ourselves.

Caroline Castrillon writing for Forbes explains that men and women are wired differently, commenting on the fact that “men are focused on the short-term need, women are more focused on building long-term personal connections” and that often “women who try to network like men to get ahead actually do the worst”. Interestingly, the best networks are built on long-standing relationships, rather than short term goals and we women may be a lot better at networking than we think – we just need to find the right environment, one of which, says Caroline, is a strong female support group.

A number of young female professionals have confirmed to me that they do not enjoy attending traditional networking events. Common observations include:

  • lack of structure to events;
  • seminars aimed at more experienced professionals; and
  • not enough other female attendees(!).

This is why, in addition to our monthly seminars, LTS plans to host female specific events, to help us build strong working relationships and networks as well as those ever important support groups. Keep a look out for our first “Afternoon Tea” event coming soon!

In the meantime, please encourage female colleagues and friends to attend events and to put themselves out there, however difficult it may be to start.

I would love to hear your thoughts on networking – please feel free to comment below or email me directly.

 

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Nalinareply
23rd May 2019 at 8:51 am

Based on my personal experience, it is often the case of not always having a ‘buddy’ or ‘mate’ with similar interests with whom to regularly attend these events to make them productive as well as enjoyable. Some women are lucky enough to have great colleagues who would also be attending the same networking event together and knowing at least one person there can make a huge difference in how easily other people approach you or how easily you approach people. Standing alone with a drink in one hand and having a few bad conversational starters with people, who might not be suitable for your network, can easily put you off and make you wary of networking.

Many women tend to also prioritise family life and other personal commitments over venturing to random professional events after work. This leaves the rest of the women, who actually want to attend these events to advance their careers, facing the male-dominated landscape alone.

Finally, another reason, in my opinion, is that women tend to downplay their skills and competence and generally tend to be more humble about their achievements. But while being meek is not an ideal quality in building fruitful business relationships, being the opposite is often judged more harshly for women than for men. A man is perceived as confident while a woman comes off as haughty. So, it really is a balancing act between the two and not everyone can naturally do that. Training women to network in a business world that was not theirs until a few decades ago (and still isn’t) can start making a difference.

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