Networking, for many, is a fundamental part of their business life. Whether they like it or not. And some do really love it, while others merely tolerate it and some are overwhelmed. So does it make a difference whether you are a man or a woman?
I can remember way back when I was a young accountant, I used to go to business networking events and they could be pretty stuffy. The attendees were mainly men in suits. I got quite used to being a woman in a man’s world.
But is that what it’s all about? Is networking only a man’s game?
Traditionally business networking certainly was; things like the Masons, Rotary, Lions Clubs and so on were men only. And it’s not so long ago that the same applied to golf clubs, yacht clubs and similar places.
Over the years business has changed. It’s much more open and mixed so you have to play things differently. As a result many organisations have opened up and are much more balanced between men and women. And of course there are also women – only networking groups too.
So how should women approach networking? Well, we’re all human beings and all business people, but males and females think and act differently.
Just as in sales it pays to understand the customer and speak their language, so it is in networking. At the end of the day it’s all about communication, so the better you can understand how to communicate with different people the more effective you can be. Don’t limit yourself to only half the marketplace. Make sure you can connect with both and so maximise your target audience.
The way to do this is to understand how women and men do it differently so that you can then adjust and communicate with both halves of the room.
Men are more direct with fewer words, whereas women like to chat. Women naturally read non-verbal signs better while men are naturally more competitive and look for recognition.
We tend to have different priorities. Generally, men do what they need to do to succeed, including being where they need to be and putting in long hours. It’s built into who they are. Women typically have other priorities and want more a flexible business.
And we define it differently too. Men call networking anything where they could get business, whether it be golf, a formal networking event or whatever. Women on the other hand call all non-official networking events ‘socialising’. So, to them voluntary groups, school meetings, sports etc are social and not networking – even if they are networking without realising it.
As you would expect women tend to display more feminine traits and men more masculine traits. So when they are networking women are often better listeners, more likely to actually hear what is said. They want to collaborate so are looking to work together. And they will place a premium on relational aspects of networking, feeling that it is important to get to know fellow attendees.
Men typically are problem solvers and tend to be task-oriented and will likely also be interested in status.
We also often have different business goals and reasons for being in business, which will affect our networking goals and therefore the way we network. The women are often looking beyond just the networking, while the men are on a mission, with a plan and a strategy. They are there for a reason and want to achieve what they set out to do.
These differences are also noticeable in terms of preparing for networking when new to it. While men have a tendency to dive in to networking and learn on the fly, a woman is more likely to learn some skills before she goes.
The bottom line is we are the same but different. If we take the time to understand and learn from each other, we can utilise this information to improve our own networking and communication skills, and ultimately our business results.
Julia McDaid is a business coach and mentor to women entrepreneurs, and is the author of several publications for business owners.
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