We are the change

Are women poor networkers?

At the We Mean Business event at Westminister Hall in February, Maria Eagle MP confidently stood in front of 250 women and stated that women weren’t good networkers.  Yesterday in the Times Antonia Senior wrote an article entitled “Why Women are such bad networkers”.  What is going on here?  Why is this message being bandied about like it is fact.  So I’m here to set the record straight.  The opposite is in fact true… they’re not just good networkers, they’re great networkers.  This is evidenced not only by the number of women only business networks but also by the Mums networks that exist all over the country.

Last Monday, at the Women Unlimited Stepping into Success conference, the buzz was deafening as women were connecting and building new relationships with each other.  In my 10 years of networking, I have never seen this kind of connection and energy at a mixed networking event.  I am a member of multiple women’s networks as well as mixed networking groups.  Networks such as Athena, Sister Snog, She’s Ingenious and Women Unlimited are thriving. If you asked the women that attended the meetings in these networks,  whether or not women were good networkers, you would hear a roar of disapproval at even asking the question.

Women are not natural networkers?

In the Times article the second paragraph starts with the statement “Women are not natural networkers.”  Ok ladies, look inside yourselves and tell me whether you think this statement sounds even remotely accurate. Women network every day of their lives whether they are mothers, carers, business owners or career women.  We are constantly sharing news, stories, advice and referrals.  Networking is how most of us choose our suppliers, decide which items to buy, and learn about new opportunities.  Women are behind 80% of all purchases here in the UK and any business which thinks that women don’t network (and thereby share referrals and recommendations) doesn’t understand the way that our society works and runs the risk of missing out on the market that they should be spending most of their energy on.

No ass kissing here

The journalist seems to indicate that if we’re not schmoozing then we’re not networking.  So because women are not so good at kissing their bosses behind, then they are not good networkers.  Yes, I would have to agree with that, as not much ass kissing goes on around here, however relationship building definitely does.  In my web design agency, Springmedia, 90% of all our new business comes via referral.  When I decided that I was going to go on a new business drive, I didn’t start advertising on Google, I didn’t put an advert  in a magazine, I joined a business network which resulted in a direct additional £8000 turnover in 6 months and indirectly (ie referrals from new clients that I gained there) another £17,000 in turnover.

People buy from people they know, like and trust

People buy from people that they know, like and trust.  And networking gives us the opportunity to develop relationships that can turn into business both as a buyer and a seller.  I now have an accountant, book-keeper, a personal VA, a new intern, a printing company and a new team member all via networking… and these are just a few of the new relationships that have developed through this activity.

What’s your objective?

Networking also isn’t all about getting close to the big cheese in the room. It really depends on your objective.  The thing that annoys me about this article is it’s lack of perspective, lack of facts and the assumption that networking is all about getting to the top of the tree in an organisation.  There are many reasons that women network, such as support, learning, and sales.

… are you a cyber loser?

And then we have the ‘cyber losers’; women who are not utilising social media for business.  Clearly this journalist is not following female business owners on Twitter.  Technorati has shown that women are twice as likely to do business via social media than men.  Women have embraced social networking and Liz Cable who purports herself as a social media expert suggests that women are not promoting themselves in the right way.  Again, I have to disagree.  I know of multiple women who are generating new business every day via Twitter and Linked In; women such as Ces Loftus of Creatively Minded, Rona Wheeldon from Organised PA and Sarah Turner of Turner Ink.  Social media is a great way to build social proof, share a bit of who you are and share and promote the work that you are doing.

I’m not going to get to riled up about this article, as the journalist had started with the premise that women were not good networkers and then went on to deliver a one-sided argument to back it up.  As with anything, there are women who are great networkers and women who are poor networkers, but if you would put yourself in the latter category, I highly recommend that you find a way to embrace networking.  A couple of great books on the topic are The Jelly Effect: How to Make Your Communication Stick and Brilliant Networking: What the Best Networkers Know, Say and Do .  If you have any networking stories, we would love to hear them.

If you want to read more about this, Nancy Williams, has written her response on her blog TigerTwoTiger

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  1. Maria says

    Hear, hear – having recently started my online business every piece of work I have picked up so far has been through networking and social media. As a mother I network constantly with other mothers where we share advice about school and our children. I would add that many women don’t just network for the WIFI (What’s in it for me) factor – inlike a lot of men – but to help other women in similar situations to themselves.

    Thanks for your great rebuttal!

  2. Naomi Jane says

    Thank you for a much needed positive response with real women as examples and not a sweeping ignorant / sexist generalisation in sight!

    We need to speak up and make a stand against these damaging messages in the media.

    Being a woman is no hindrance to business success. Being a poor networker (or lacking any other crucial business skill) is! Skills can be learnt and enhanced by all.

    We as women of course do things differently to men but we are all as individuals different in our approaches and behaviours.

    Here’s to successful businesswomen. May we not lose focus and continue to live our lives and run our businesses in ways that prove our individual business acumen!

  3. Keren Lerner says

    I really cannot believe that article. I agree – I think women make great networkers – and having been to many events not only mixed but women only, I feel there is a great understanding of how to listen first speak later amongst women and we all really try and help each other.

    I have been an active networker for 7 years, and am among many other women who really get the idea, that its not about selling or corporate climbing, but about making and deepening business and personal connections and generally making the world a nicer place to be at!

    I am really amazed the Times posted that – the backlash will (hopefully) be felt for many blog articles and tweets to come! Antonia should read your article as you make great points on all counts. Thanks Julie for your amazing work with Women Unlimited.

  4. Tamsin Fox-Davies says

    I was at the Women Unlimited conference too (in fact, I’m in the picture that goes with this article!) and I have to say that in my experience women are really networkers.

    Of the women who are featured in the picture with me, we ALL exchanged cards, and I’ve connected with 1 on twitter and 2 on linked in, so that image is a great example of networking in action!

    One thing from the Times article did strike me, and that was the point that women are less likely to exploit our connections for our own gain. However, I don’t think that makes someone a bad networker – on the contrary, I think it makes someone a GREAT networker.

    True networking is not about what you can get out of another person, it’s about building genuine and long term relationships for mutual good.

  5. Sarah Arrow says

    Don’t you feel a small fraction of compassion for this poor journo who has obviously been born 100 years too late? No? I didn’t either.

    Does she (Antonia) know we vote now too? and drive cars? and have businesses as well as have our own money to buy newspapers? And to what purpose? to read ill informed rubbish like what she has written.

  6. Liz Cable says

    Firstly I don’t “purport myself” as a social media expert. That’s what the journalist called me. I’m not a guru or a social media rockstar either 😉 but I do help female entrepreneurs to make the most of the web, and am upset that this article may give people the wrong impression.

    The journalist interviewed me for 45 minutes – for a completely different article – based on some research that “Proved” statistically that the women interviewed were less likely to use their social networks for business purposes than men were.

    To some extent, in my experience, some women are more careful of protecting their private online networks (involving, as they do, photos of their children etc.) than men are. But this doesn’t excuse the misrepresentation of my opinion in this article.

    For example the “under the radar” comment I made was in reference to the fact that officially only 6% of businesses in Leeds are owned by women, and I simply believe there are a lot more, that don’t qualify “officially” as businesses and so are “under the radar” – a comment taken completely out of context.

    If you look at my testimonials on LinkedIN, or Google me, you will find a much truer representation of me and my work than is presented in this terribly researched, terribly titled, and ill-meaning article.

    I’ll write all my own copy in future!

  7. Julie Hall - Editor says

    Hi Liz

    Thanks for joining us in the debate… I’m glad we were able to give you a vehicle to set the record straight – It can be really shocking when your words are used out of context. The Times article has certainly caused a lot of debate, but my main issue with it is that the whole premise behind it is inaccurate

  8. Julie Hall - Editor says

    LOL Sarah 🙂

  9. Lorelei Gibb says

    A hearty “hear hear” from me! It amazes me that there is still so much inequality in our society. Somehow, it is still “ok” to point out women’s “failures” especially in business and as mother’s – damned if we do, damned if we don’t. You change this headline to “Why Ethnic Minorities are such bad networkers”, or “Christians”, or “Disabled people” and there would be public outrage, but it is still culturally acceptable to treat women as an inferior, and seperate, species! Why?

  10. Gina Romero says

    Great response Julie! Here’s my tuppence worth.

    It seems that headline of the (original) article has confused the issue from the offset.

    Are we talking about the aggressive tactics of corporate ladder climbing or women’s inability to network? The headline suggests the latter however the content covers networking in the broader sense. In my humble opinion the article merges two very separate issues into one.

    Sadly we can’t argue the stats that so few women reach the top of the world’s largest corporations, but that is a debate on the women and the glass ceiling and not on networking. I don’t profess to be an expert in this area, however as this comment thread highlights, it is a sensitive issue and there is still much work to be done in terms of finding the right balance.

    My definition of networking however is creating connections with people to build long term relationships for mutual benefit and success. There is no argument whatsoever that woman are naturally excellent at this, in the social and business sense. Women that have never even heard of the term networking do it brilliantly without even realising it.

    We may not (as a general rule) be as good at blowing our own trumpets as our male counterparts but we make up for it by being fantastic at raising each others profiles, providing support and inspiration (and being open to it) and collaborating. This is a clear example of how as women, we can be outstandingly successful by leveraging our strengths rather than trying to emulate the competitive techniques that work better for men.

    I agree that some women are not comfortable in the testosterone driven male dominated networking world. That said, neither are some men. I don’t lack confidence but I do need to be in the right environment. There are a number of different networking platforms – informal, structured, social both online and offline. Everybody will have a different style of networking that suits their personality and regardless of your gender; one of the important factors for networking success is to attend the right networking events.

    Ideally this should be with a group of likeminded people, where you feel comfortable and you can be yourself. When we are authentic it is easy and fun to build relationships that have integrity and therefore long term value. Make sure you have a well thought out strategy, follow through with disciplined execution and have a genuine desire to help others.

    And yes networking can also be about asking for what you want from others, but first you have to earn the right to ask for it by proving your ability to deliver.

    Most importantly – networking should be fun. If you aren’t enjoying your networking activities AND getting fantastic results then talk to me

    Please click here for my full response and top 10 tips for networking success:

    Happy networking! @gina_romero

  11. Andrew Widgery says

    Women are poor networkers?
    Pha, what utter tosh.

    I have given network courses to several thousand people over the past 5 years and the fact of the matter is that Women are more natural networkers than men.

    Have you noticed the obvious differences?
    Us guys tend to go steaming in with a handshake followed by a sales pitch and then a card is thrust into your unsuspecting hand with the expectation of you *wanting to share your details and card with him.
    I appreciate I generalise here and there are many “professional” male networkers who do know how to network well but the majority I meet don’t.

    Women in my experience of networking might not be so assertive in their approach but never the less their gentler demeanour is far more disposed towards listening and forging the relationship first before looking for the transaction.

    They more naturally appreciate the value in getting to know someone first before considering the referral or transaction. They also tend to look deeper into those they are conversing with rather than going for the superficial approach and going for volume collecting cards as if they were a life line.

    Some women maybe less confident particularly in circumstances where there is a heavy predominance of men but that doesn’t make them any the poorer networker and they are far more receptive to ideas that will enhance their skills than men are generally.

    So although I am very much in the minority here addressing a women’s audience, don’t you let anyone even suggest that you can’t network. Networking to you is actually a very natural action even though some of you may not recognise this. Just think when you need to call upon a friend or contact within say a social situation, how easy it is for you to make that connection for assistance or advice; the same applies to your business contacts.

  12. Jasmin says

    I thing women are great networkers as they often know how to communicate better and how the other person feels. If one understands the other person it is much easier to bond with someone. A lot of men lack this ability 🙂