Hate Networking? You’re Not Alone

Professional networking feels wrong — inauthentic and immoral — to many of us. Studies have learned people feel dirty when they engage in professional networking activities, especially if they’re on the low end of a power dynamic.  Folks who are already successful, and have less need of making advantageous connections, don’t seem to mind it so much.  Ironic, no? Those who need to network the most are the ones who feel the worst about the process.

Even as a self-professed extrovert who likes connecting people with others who may have common interests, I don’t love networking as a formalized activity.  I grew up with staunch rules around how much self-promotion was acceptable (the answer as a woman was pretty much ‘none’), and how expressing pride in one’s accomplishments was regarded as not confident, but rude.

This Tall Poppy Syndrome did nothing for my ability to navigate the professional world. As I contended with overcoming my own perfectionism in my work, I also came to understand the unique leverage of networking.  I stopped hating networking when I could approach it as a learning opportunity. I could be openly curious about other people, and share with the folks I met what I can do.  I also no longer needed to be an expert on many different areas, since I could “outsource” information in other people’s heads.  I didn’t need to know everything, if I knew enough people who collectively know everything.

Experts offer a similar tactic to improving how you feel about networking. Focusing less on what you need from the experience and more on what you can bring to your interactions with others helps you feel less gross about the whole encounter.

Networking became a lower-risk way of practicing self-promotion for me, which is still feels awkward, even 20+ years into my professional career.  I was taught my work would speak for itself, and I shouldn’t chase accolades. However, the reality is that only once in my professional career has a manager offered me an opportunity to do something new because he knew my skills well (Thank you, Bart!).  The only person who is going to advance my career is me.

As a result, I continue to practice getting to know people and their abilities so I can tap them on the shoulder for help later, and hopefully repay that when they need my skills. I have met interesting people in professional environments like conferences or training classes, and also in less formal situations like on a plane or while I’m traveling.

Like most activities, it gets easier the more I practice. I don’t know if I’ve made it to that level of success where I no longer feel odd about networking, but I keep moving closer to it each time I can approach the experience as an opportunity rather than an obligation.

Krthe Woman: Why Latina Women Aren’t In Technology

When you think about jobs you think about opportunities and equal chance no matter what race or gender that you are. You have an identity disregard circumstance. If you are a Latina or a white woman you should be granted the same opportunities that the other has, because you are both human. If you are […]

via Why Latina Women Aren’t In Technology: Because They’re Latina — Krthe Woman

The author makes an important observation:

Across the board we all talked about the lack of diversity and representation in tech companies and what we should do to solve this problem. I then realized the answer, the majority of the fifteen girls out of twenty that participated in girls who code – who had the privilege in doing this program which opens their eyes to a whole new world- were the daughters of engineers or people who worked in technology. And you ask yourself how could one aspire to be a computer programmer if you don’t see anybody who looks like you working in this career.

Representation matters, but so does access to the prestige networks where they can learn skills to pursue opportunities they didn’t initially think possible.

Being more like a man at work doesn’t work for women

Many books, think pieces and hot takes have been produced to tell women what they’re doing wrong when it comes to getting ahead in their careers, especially those of us in STEM careers. More often than not, the advice given (often by men) is to act more like men. Women in corporate (US) America understand this to be hollow guidance. The path to navigate the minefield of working while a woman means nodding and smiling while being given worthless advice, and learning the hard way what works.

The best study I’ve seen on this comes from Catalyst.org, called The Myth of the Ideal Worker, published in 2011.

The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All the Right Things Really Get Women Ahead?, tackles persistent myths about the gender gap. Career advancement strategies used by women and men were compared to determine if using the same strategies ultimately leads to the same career outcomes. Findings revealed that:

  • Men benefited more from adopting proactive strategies.
  • When women did all the things they have been told will help them get ahead—using the same tactics as men—they still advanced less than their male counterparts and had slower pay growth.

The summary download available at the Catalyst site explains four types of approaches workers use in advancing their careers. They measured women and men’s advancement within the same approach, and across all approaches.  The results?

  • Doing “All the Right Things” Helped Men—But Not Women—Advance Further and Faster
  • Additionally, Men Advanced Further Than Women Across All Other Strategy Profiles
  • Men’s Compensation Also Grew Faster Than Women’s, Regardless of Strategies Used

This also reminds me of other studies that show the men are hired and promoted for their potential, while women advance on their track record. Men also tend to overestimate their own capabilities, and believe they should be paid more for those imagined abilities than they are, while women are more likely to only pursue opportunities where they are fully (or over-)qualified.

If we look to the source of these tendencies, it points to how girls and boys are socialized. Girls are socialized to strive for perfection, while boys are encouraged to take risks and be unafraid of failure.  This plays out in schooling environments, where girls are less likely to answer questions in class unless they’re 100% sure they’re correct, and boys will just shout down interrupt with wrong answers or their own opinions. This behavior persists through to the college level.

This is teaching girls and women that we’re not likely to be heard, we’ll be judged harshly for any misstep or risk that doesn’t yield perfectly positive results, and that mediocre men will likely be advanced over hardworking women. Women tend to have a pessimistic outlook on their advancement and compensation, according to one study, but I personally think this is women accurately assessing their chances in the workplace.  Women’s lowered expectations means we have higher job satisfaction because we dare not dream of better outcomes, given the realities we face.

So what can we do to change these outcomes, since continuing to try the same tactics and hope for better results is insanity?

  • Teach girls bravery, not perfection
  • Making our achievements known, and seeking feedback and credit
  • Proactively networking with influential people
  • Pursuing high-profile projects where our achievements can shine

If you have other ideas for effective alternate strategies women in STEM jobs can use to improve their career advancement goals, please share!