For Women, Networking Is a Skill They Can't Ignore

January 29, 2020

Tânia Fernandes Mendes

When women supercharge their networks, they not only give their careers a boost, but also help give other women one, as well.

Two women talk while networking, which is key to diversity and inclusion for women.

Most of us, especially those of us from younger generations, accept as truth that personality and behavior matter more than gender when it comes to work. Yet, far too many women continue to see their careers limited by the glass ceiling. When women network effectively, it may not remove that stubbornly persistent barrier but can give their careers a much-needed boost.

But first let’s talk about why we haven’t yet been able to obliterate the glass ceiling once and for all. There are multiple reasons why it continues to exist, and they fall across two basic categories:

External factors, sustained through strong doctrines, organizational behaviors, and doubters (e.g., adherents of neurosexism), which remain prevalent in certain industries.

Intrinsic unconscious bias, which can include factors such as a strong inner critic, or a fixed mindset.

DDI’s assessment results confirm that there is no gender-related skill gap. What is real, however, (illustrated in the graphics below) is a gender-related confidence gap.

The higher you (want to) step up the ladder, the more important your image and exposure become. Thus, your confidence in your skills and abilities matters more.

Looking beyond the environmental factors

As women leaders, let’s focus on what we can control and influence.

We need to start by asking and answering critical questions for ourselves. These include questions such as, what do we want to achieve? How do we want to be seen by others? And who responds to us?

I am not saying we should ignore the environmental factors that can keep us from succeeding and advancing. (Organizations certainly don’t ignore environmental factors when asking questions about their strategy and business plans). Rather, as these are factors we can’t control, we are better off focusing out energy where we can have impact.

Effective networking is one of those things we can do that is within our control. Networking is an exceptional way to build purposeful connections and relationships with those who can help us build our image and increase our exposure as leaders.

What’s more, for women, networking helps us to formulate our vision and set a path forward, connecting us with positive examples and role models—those who have been through the same experiences we are going through, and can give us perspective and help us navigate a path forward.

These connections can include experienced women leaders but they also can include male leaders with a gender-inclusive mindset who actively live and commit to that mandate.

What organizations are doing

Before we talk more about the power of networking, let’s first acknowledge that diversity and inclusion are finally becoming a business priority. This includes addressing the need for more gender diversity in leadership.

Many organizations are no longer ignoring the fact that women remain underrepresented in the leadership ranks. They understand what DDI research has confirmed: that organizations with better financial performance have more women in leadership roles. And many have implemented initiatives with the aim to equip both women and men with the proven skills that typically define high performers.

They’ve also launched programs that target specific external and internal challenges that women encounter. DDI has worked with many organizations to implement Women in Leadership programs that create insights for women leaders, help them ignite their impact, and, through a session that promotes awareness and dialog, activates men to become allies to women leaders. We also work with organizations to promote gender diversity and inclusion by helping women harness the power of their professional networks.

How to super-power your network, driven by a diverse and inclusive mindset 

Our networks, of course, represent one of the factors we can control. And it’s up to us to take action and advance our careers by super-powering our networks. Here's how:

  1. Identify your need: Start with your end goal in mind to craft your roadmap and create the route. Then determine both who can help you and how they can help. Create your authentic brand script (words matter!) and ask for effective feedback and coaching from the women and men who can help you. Put yourself in the driver’s seat. After all, it’s your career!
  2. Be bold: Networking is an act of courage. Acknowledge your fear of failure and accept failure (being told no, or encountering someone who is unresponsive when you reach out) as a first attempt in learning. Becoming confident may mean you “fake it until you make it.” (Do some “power posing or exercises” to build confidence via body language.) Don’t wait until you think you can do it right. Act now and take potential risks!
  3. Identify the network you want to approach: Constantly ask yourself if your network is strong enough and don’t be afraid to change the status quo. Do you have the right contacts? If not, who do you know who can help you to strengthen or broaden your network? Are you leveraging those who are in your network to further expand it? Remember to have a good balance of men and women in your network; be purposeful in your attempts to grow your network and expand its reach.
  4. Create your POV: Remember, effective networking requires giving as much as taking. To strengthen and broaden your network, consider what you give in order to get what you want. Be ready to reciprocate. Also, be willing to do some self-reflection about the value you can offer. Do you have a solid and strong point of view to offer others? If you suspect the answer is no, ask for feedback and coaching from those with which you already have a trusting relationship.
  5. Know your contact—and yourself—before you approach! Before initiating contact with someone on your target list, ask yourself these critical questions: What kind of person is she or he? What does the person need that I can provide? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, involve the people you already know and trust. And be conscious of your own credibility, personality traits, and what differentiates you from others. If you are unaware of these things, a 360 survey or personality tests followed by a coaching session could be a good start! (From an organizational data-driven and strategic decision-making perspective, assessments provide an even more holistic and deeper view.) Continually ask for feedback and coaching to ensure you are delivering on your brand. If you aren’t, adjust!
  6. Nurture your network: There are many ways to nurture and preserve your network: staying in touch via social media, sharing information or articles of mutual interest, making introductions to people you know whom those in your network might also value having in their networks. The bottom line: stay connected on a regular basis and continually give. It’s the best way to get what you want when you ask for something. And in everything you do to nurture your network, be authentic—and have fun!

Learn how you can empower women in leadership.

Based in Germany, Tânia Fernandes Mendes is a consulting associate for DDI. She is a passionate facilitator, coach, and assessment role-player and manages global projects in partnership with her clients and partners. Her creativity and energy are nurtured by being a singer/songwriter and listening to any kind of music—preferably live—for inspiration. She is a big believer in the power of mindset and is living and working toward the goal of people understanding that kindness should not be taken for weakness but for respect—and for a better world we are working and living in.

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