High performing females in my networking are maximizing their networking efforts while minimizing the time spent actually networking by doing 3 things: 1)seeking out the right type of networking contact by being intentional about who they are networking to 2)cultivating those contacts into mentors where appropriate and mutually beneficial and 3)leveraging time they’re already at work, and 4) establishing expectations on both ends.
Through my interviews and career observations, and research on gender differences at work, I’ve pulled together the strategy that will simplify your networking efforts with minimal wasted time at awkward events taking over your weeknight evenings.
Gender Differences in Networking
First, it’s important to look at the statistics and reality over the course of a career. There are not only gender but age differences in the patterns of networking. This can help us realize and question our own “stage” of networking, and be aware of any patterns we’re falling into.
Men’s networking efforts increase in their mid to late career stage, around age 35-50 while Women aged 35-50 are reported to slow to a near stop- regardless of if either sex has children. This may not be you, but research shows that these gender differences correlate with confidence levels. As women become more competent at their craft, confidence levels rise as well. While men’s confidence levels peak in their early twenties and around age 35-50 are declining. I believe there’s reason to infer that when confidence levels rise, networking slows.
Styles and types of networking also vary. Men tend to bond over activities while research tells us women tend to feel closer to other women when sharing feelings in a 1:1 setting. So depending on the setting, networking looks different. Networking “events” whether in person or virtual are traditionally a great way to meet folks in your industry. However, attending networking events may not always yield great results, and are typically held after business hours. This can be problematic for many folks with other responsibilities to attend regularly.
When Time is Limited
Making the most of networking within business hours is a common practice that high performers in my network make a habit. This also allows for a great return on investment of time, as they already have the time set aside. They often utilize their existing network to understand the reputation of the individual prior to reaching out to them, and cultivate relationships with folks inside or outside their company by maintaining contact, developing these relationships into mentors and finding ways to add value to their network contacts.
One nice practice a contact of mine practices is each morning she has a heart on her calendar. This reminds her to send a text, call or message to someone in her existing network to touch base with that day. Each day she’s having an exchange with someone in her network to remind them she exists and it also allows her to feel a sense of gratitude for having that individual in her professional life. It’s also a nice way to keep in touch and maintain contact while not scheduling a full half hour, or sacrificing an evening.
Networking to Find Mentors
Once you network to someone you feel could be a mentor, I oftentimes get asked the benefits of having male vs female mentors. My answer is always “each person regardless of their gender could be an excellent mentor!”
Research does point out on the generalized whole some key differences – again generalized- as to self-identifying female and male mentors. This is interesting to be aware of, but again nothing is absolute. High performing females I’ve spoken with in my network leverage the gender differences in what needs they seek to meet depending on the mentor.
Some benefits of having a female mentor
Bonding and networking with other women at work is important. Research tells us that women who feel connected personally to other females at work are happier, and more likely to stay at their current employer. Research also shows us that imposter syndrome decreases, because there’s a sense of belonging and familiarity that shows women that it’s possible.
So, having not only a friend but a mentor who is a female inside your company or in your industry can be assumed to foster an even higher sense of belonging and inclusivity. I’ve personally felt that I ‘belonged more,’ when I had a female mentor at a higher ranking in the company.
Common Challenges at Work that Female Mentors Can Address
A common challenge in the workplace is gaining access to work that puts one on the track to promotion as quickly as male colleagues. Female mentors have proactively given me permission I didn’t know I needed to be myself and do necessary things I felt guilty for doing. In my own experience they have been tremendously helpful in alleviating feelings of guilt, understanding and helping me overcome feelings of imposter syndrome, and have provided some tremendous help in time management and work integration suggestions.
My research of millennial females is suggesting that while feelings of imposter syndrome decrease and belonging increases with the addition of female mentors, help with advancement more often comes from male ‘mega champions’ rather than mentors.
The Role of Male Colleagues in Supporting Females in the Workplace
Millennial women in my research have nearly all reported that it was a male who had been more directly impactful and to be more advantageous and go more out of their way to advocate more boldly for hiring or promotion of their female report (read more about my mega champion findings in other articles/sections). Perhaps this is simple math, because there are more males occupying manager and leadership roles who have more influence upwards.
Research does tell us that men are traditionally much more bold in capitalizing on their professional and social connections for professional success.
One thing that male allies are doing well, and can double down on to provide more support to foster female mentor connections, is to actually broker introductions amongst high performing women. Secondly, since research tells us that females shoulder the majority of the burden of domestic activities, encouraging female mentoring programs and being supportive of using business hours is HUGE to allow women to connect.
Female Mentorship Done Well
As for finding a mentor, I’ve found that successful women have different types of mentors in their network. Unless you were born into a highly networked family, networking in general takes time. Gaining a great mentor takes time. Time is a major constraint of many busy females especially mid-career if they are building a family or have a side hustle. In my research of high performing millennial females, I’ve found that their networking strategy is not complicated, it’s just smart.
- They work for a boss (m/f) who has influence, and make them their greatest fan, or “mega champion” who can help them advance
- They keep in touch with former bosses, and colleagues and maintain lines of contact with them, often developing strong friendships that are career long
- They do have female mentorships, but do not rely on them for advancement. Instead, they use these relationships mainly for emotional support and feelings of inclusion
What do high performing women look for in organizations in order to maximize networking opportunities?
- Allow for networking meetings during business hours
- When requiring in person office time, make sure to provide an opportunity for the females in your organization to connect with others. Perhaps you require in office time the same day as female groups holding meetings in the office. Offering convenience for females to socialize at some point with an event or connection time with females across the org during business hours is huge. Research tells us that many females shoulder the burden of most of the domestic work, and so often the only time they have available to network is during business hours or in person at the office.
- Train managers to view that time just as important as other meetings
- Make coincidence intentional – I’ve seen building designs that are consciously designed for more collaboration and interaction with colleagues.
- Cover the cost of membership for female networking organizations, conferences and development masterminds like Lean In, Chief, or Empowered Engagement’s The Scale School (shameless plug).
- Promote more females into leadership roles where mentorship is part of their job expectation, therefore offering more opportunities for female mentorship
- Ensure your female leaders are provided the resources and tools they need to excel in their roles so that their mentorships are valuable and helpful to others.
Things to consider when you have a desire to turn a networking contact into a mentoring relationship
Be aware of creating diversity in your mentoring experiences. Different perspectives allow there to be different and inclusive types of bonds to be formed, ultimately impacting imposter syndrome & foster belonging with diverse workers.
Perhaps diversity of professional occupation is of benefit. I’ve found that many women who reached VP+ levels have experience in both sales and operations. Perhaps if you are in sales you cultivate a mentorship with someone in operations to better understand it, and gain an understanding of how that division operates in case you may want to someday move over. While it’s always great to connect with a mentor in your same job function or chain of command, I would also recommend gaining mentorship from peripheral organizations so you can learn how to better interact with other business groups you depend on, or are an internal client of.
Set clear expectations on what value you may attain from a mentor. A mentor isn’t a champion, nor are they a friend. So placing those expectations on a mentoring relationship can be detrimental. Sure they can also be a friend or champion, but expecting them to be either can be problematic.
By seeking out the right type of networking contact, cultivating those contacts into mentors where appropriate and mutually beneficial leveraging time you’re already at work, and establishing expectations on both ends many women have found that their time is maximized while furthering their skillset, confidence levels and professional opportunities with minimal extra time spent networking.
What is helping you maximize your networking efforts while juggling life?