Leadership & Communication

Networking ‘should be a part of women’s leadership development’

12 Nov 2013, by Informa Australia

Leadership for Women training courseEffective networking is an important part of leadership development, but many women are failing to take advantage of the opportunities open to them.

This is according to several experts, who highlighted the difficulties women face when trying to build relationships in the business world.

Deborah Gillis, chief operating officer at women’s research and advocacy group Catalyst, told the BBC that part of the problem is due to the authenticity of interactions.

“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 [for women],” she said.

“Men seem to do it much more naturally.”

Building leadership skills

Ms Gillis said networking should be approached like any other leadership skill in the workplace.

“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,” she argued.

Technology blogger and former Google employee Vanessa Fox said women should participate in out-of-work networking opportunities, even those that are traditionally considered ‘male-centric’.

After setting up her own company in Seattle, she regularly joined in poker games that allowed her to build useful business relationships with the other players, despite being the only female there.

“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,” she stated.

Being open and honest

Jean Martin, executive director of human resources at member-based advisory firm CEB, said whatever activities women choose to approach in their desire to network, it must be authentic.

For example, Ms Martin claimed women should only play or discuss sports if it is a topic they genuinely enjoy.

“The number one element of a successful informal relationship is that the individuals are true to themselves,” she stated.

“So doing something that you’re not interested in just to be with people ultimately creates an artificial founding of the relationship.”

CEB research shows that effective networking can boost business performance by 30 per cent, which has led to more enterprises organising events specifically catered towards building opportunities for women in the workplace.

Having a company that employs many different people, with various interests, is almost always beneficial according to data, Ms Martin added.

However, 2011 research from the Toulouse School of Economics claimed that women in senior executive positions earn only 70 per cent of the salaries of male counterparts because they fail to take advantage of networking.

A study by Catalyst last year found similar results, with figures showing up to 20 per cent of leadership development is down to networking.

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