This industry is full of conferences and speaking events that we all attend. During or after these events there is usually set aside time for networking, this may be cocktail hour or exhibitor stations. We have all seen them and yet, for many women in the industry, networking can be difficult when following the rules of our counterparts. Throughout my career, I have come to understand what networking means to me, and it does not fit the traditional idea of what networking “should” look like.
Last year, right around this time I spent the evening at a presentation of Women in Public Life: An Evening with Madeleine Albright (former US Secretary of State 1997-2001) hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minneapolis. I had listened to brief interviews with her before and was fascinated by her political savvy, insight, and confidence. My favorite quote of hers is, “There is a special hell for women who don’t help other women.” Being new to Minneapolis at the time, I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet people who may actually become more than an acquaintance due to our shared interests. Sure this may have been a business networking opportunity, but I really was looking to make connections.
It was a great evening on a couple of different levels. Secretary Albright was all that and more, I could have sat and listened to her for hours. During the cocktail hour, I struck up a conversation with a woman who also was alone waiting for friends to arrive. While we had little in common professionally, she was interesting, humorous, and we enjoyed our conversation with each other. The other women eventually showed up and we ended our conversation. During the presentation, I was seated at a table for dinner with a group of eight women, some alone, some with friends. We all introduced ourselves, said what we did for a living, and had some truly fascinating dinner conversation. Though, looking back, I couldn’t tell you anyone’s name or where they worked or really too much about them.
Did I do something wrong?! I walked away having had a great evening but my networking briefcase had nothing in it. Or did it?
For me networking is not how many business cards and contacts I can gather at professional events. Although, according to many, the more you have, the more you have a chance at making a business connection, it just hasn’t worked out that way for me. What has worked has been constant, consistent, relationship-oriented connections with my peers and associates throughout my industry over time.
These relationships are based on a number of things:
Many of my relationships started many years ago when we were just starting out in our careers. During these early years it seemed easier to put yourself out there and cultivate a friendship – you were all in the same boat and what did you have to lose? Networking can be as simple as stepping into a group already chatting and contribute. Introducing yourself to the person sitting next to you and follow up with some small talk, offer your business card and they will hopefully offer theirs. Contact them after the conference in an email if nothing else than to say you enjoyed talking with them. You get the idea.
As you develop in your career, the potential uneasiness may change to confidence, discretion, and knowing when it is not the right time to pursue an agenda. Networking is not a game but an art of social conscientiousness. Every event can be that first day of school which can be daunting! Unfortunately, not all professionals are gracious to each other but when they are it can definitely be synergistic.
A mentor can be invaluable for those initial introductions. They can guide you to meet the decision makers and strategists. However, you also have to be ready to strike out on your own. Don’t sit with your work friends for the dinner at an event. Sit at a table where you don’t know anyone, introduce yourself, participate in any discussion or ask questions, show you are interested. You can empower yourself in these situations. Don’t be disheartened if you think it didn’t go well. Try again another time, just don’t give up! Learn to be comfortable with yourself and what you know you can offer whether socially or professionally, no matter where you are in your career.
- Willy Morrison
Carmichael, S. (2015, February 26). Why “Network More” Is Bad Advice for Women.
Clark, D. (2015, March 10). The Right (and Wrong) Way to Network.
Inam, H. (2015, July 14) How Women Can Succeed By Networking Authentically.
Women on the Rocks is a blog that discusses the successes, challenges, and various tools for women in the science and engineering profession. While Women on the Rocks is a gender specific blog, its purpose is to provide a space for everyone in the science and engineering profession to have honest discussions about their experiences in the field. The blog is written by Willy Morrison and Gail Cederberg, PhD, and is edited by Rebecca Wegscheid; for their bios please see our introductory post. As the series grows WotR will be including pieces from guest authors (maybe you!). Your comments are welcomed and encouraged.
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