An interesting recent observation I have made is around how good women are at “chatting’. Really, I hear you say, we all know women have no problem chatting when they get together! Actually, the real observation I have made is that as women, while we don’t lack the ability to chat, we do seem to lack the ability to network as effectively as we could. As a result we can underestimate the value in relationships made through the process. We can also forget to leverage what social capital we do have. Using this we can call on our networks to be our advocates when we can’t be our own on those occasions when we get knocked back, as we all do at some point, in our professional lives.
I heard a recent positive example of a young women who was unsuccessful in obtaining her first board position, missing out by 14 votes, despite her networks being certain she would be voted in. On finding out she was unsuccessful, rather than hide and nurse her bruised ego, and question her lack of ability to build her external network to increase votes, she went out to those same networks and told them about her quest to get on to a board and the sector she was interested in. Through this process she was approached to apply for a director role within an industry she was truly passionate about. The existing directors in that organisation had previously assumed she was not interested in a board role and therefore had not approached her.
Being actively involved in networks like Professionelle and Women on Boards, I see first-hand the benefits from networking and the value women get from ‘social capital’. As with the above example, increasing social capital is one of the benefits obtained from putting effort into relationships both inside and outside of our organisational networks. Part of this is a result of building relationships with a purpose to help you move closer to your goals, and for you to help them move closer to theirs. Creating and maintaining networks also helps to build advocates who become cheerleaders who sing our praises when we aren’t there to do so.
The key to networking and getting real value from it, is approaching it with a purpose. Whether it is a relationship you want to develop, a network you wish to build, or an event you choose to attend, approach it with a purpose. Know first what you want to get from it and what you are prepared to put into it.
With this in mind, we have to share our dreams and goals with our networks and advocates. Be proud, be brave and tell people what you are working towards. Be active in sharing this with people and also ask, whose advocate can I be? Whose praises do I need to sing? What opportunities do I see for others, that they could benefit from? Through this approach you are also able to look at the process of building social capital from a giving perspective.