Networking for women

Women have access to uniquely positioned networks. Here's how you can better leverage them to your advantage.

Networking for women

Between two jobs, a 3-year-old son, a marriage, a house in mid-renovation and elder-care responsibilities, Susan Diachisin doesn't have the time to fill out a name tag, let alone attend events or make networking rounds at work. Lucky for her -- and her career -- she isn't afraid to network outside traditional arenas. 

Today, women are busier than ever. The silver lining is that busier also means more networking connections.

For example, Diachisin has explored career change through contacts in her monthly women's group and found one of her present jobs through a friend from graduate school. "I'm constantly busy," says Diachisin. "A lot of networking happens in my social life when I'm not crunched into a time that I have to get tasks done."

Career counselor, lecturer and author Valerie Young says that women have many opportunities for networking, if only they tapped them. She encourages women to build networking contacts by examining the components of their lives. Start with present and past work experiences, but then also add places you volunteer, groups you may meet through children or family, clubs and friends. Don't rule out spots like the gym, the park and other casual and unstructured environments.

Ali Marchildon isn't one to dismiss a chance meeting. Her handmade bags, which she started as a hobby, garnered enough attention last year that she suddenly found herself in business. "I needed help, and I was whining about it to my hairdresser," she says. Marchildon's hairdresser happened to have a friend who was trying to start a similar business. Marchildon and this contact founded Flashbags and enrolled in a class in a women's small-business program.

"That led to meeting all kinds of people," say Marchildon. "It's been interesting to see our little idea explode." Marchildon's openness to networking has resulted in a booming business just a year and a half after moving to a new state.

Nonprofessional settings may actually be natural places for many women to make career connections. Deborah Vaughan, an independent career counselor who also works for The Women's Center says that women in the workplace tend to be hardworking, to a fault.

"Women underestimate the value of face time," says Vaughan. "They assume if what they are doing is high quality, it will be rewarded." Men, on the other hand, tend to take the time at work to connect and notify others of their accomplishments.

Additionally, Young explains that many women are uncomfortable with pure career networking. "There's a sense that it would be hypocritical for a woman to stay in contact if she doesn't like the person," Young says. Men seem to be more at ease separating personality and business.

How You Can Boost Your Career Outside the Professional Arena

  • Learn to Self-Promote: "There's a social reality that can't be ignored," explains Young. "A woman who is self-promoting can be perceived differently than a man who is self-promoting." The goal is to promote oneself comfortably.

    Jodi Hullinger may have hit upon the right chord. She recently introduced friends to her new position in marketing and PR for Lekker Home with a short, unobtrusive email accompanied by fun photos of her and her colleagues transforming a retail space. "I think of it as sharing," says Hullinger. "I wanted family and friends to get a better sense of what my job is. I wish I had a better grasp on what my friends do."

    To learn how to explain your own story, Young suggests reading Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus.

  • Don't Be Cryptic: Bringing up your career at a book club or a mom's group may seem awkward, so Vaughan suggests practicing how to introduce career-related topics into nonprofessional environments simply and honestly. "If you feel shy, open up the subject of that vulnerability," she says. You can also let people know that you understand their limitations by plainly saying, "If I'm asking too much, let me know." 
  • Stop Feeling Selfish: According to Young, "While men are comfortable with hierarchy, women go out of their way to keep things even." Asking for help on your career from a non-business contact can feel like unfair exploitation. To quell this feeling, remember that you have information and advice to offer back. Vaughan and Young both say that people tend to like to give and be the expert. Asking someone for help is often flattering and seen as an extension of trust.


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