How Successful Women Use Their Networks

network Feb 14, 2024
A white and a black woman networking for purposes of career success.

TL;DR: What matters when it comes to networking is that you use your strategic relationships to move the business forward and to enhance your Business Savvy. That's what successful women do.

The Importance of Strategic Networks

I you've ever wanted to do better at networking, chances are you've read all the conventional exhortations about how to network. You've probably read the wisdom of many F500 women CEOs who say that "networking is working." And perhaps you've even worked on useful networking skills - including some I teach such as Have a Goal, Think and Link, and using Explicit Reciprocity.

If all that's not working for you, here's a different way to think about networking.

How Successful Women Use Their Networks

Based on its subtitle, I was SO ready to tell you about this Fast Company article on networking:

"Systemic barriers can prevent women leaders from accessing the most advantageous networking opportunities, but there’s much companies can do to correct this imbalance."

Ah, I thought, a refreshing placement of responsibility on systemic barriers.

And, yes. The approach taken by Carolyn Childers is refreshing. She asked how successful women use their networks!

If you seek to do a better job at networking, here are the 2 MOST important pieces of information from the article:

1. "The study revealed that networking is indeed essential for women leaders to achieve nearly every career milestone, but it also plays a crucial role in driving broader operational and revenue benefits for their organizations."

----> My Commentary: Ahem, in other words successful executives use their strategic relationships to drive outcomes thereby demonstrating their business, financial and strategic acumen.

2."The study found that more than 70% of women have used networking to help manage workplace challenges and also achieve business goals, such as saving money for their organization through vendor relationships (74%), improving processes (76%), implementing new frameworks and tools for increased efficiencies (84%), and winning new business (85%)."

----> My Commentary: Ahem, again, using networks to demonstrate business, financial and strategic acumen and close The Missing 33% gap in the career success equation for women. In her findings:

  • Saving money, improving processes and increasing efficiencies all impact Return.
  • Winning new business can impact Return and/or Growth.

Advice to Organizations...Applied to You

The article presents 3 recommended actions that, thankfully, focus on actions organizations can take rather than on "fixing" women.

However, the proposed actions are incomplete in significant ways. Here's how you can use the recommendations to your advantage:

1st proposed action: "1. Position networking as a tool for problem-solving and career development."

----> My Enhancement: Use networking as a tool for learning about the business, learning about its industry, understanding financial metrics, etc. (ahem, business, financial, and strategic acumen).

2nd proposed action: "2. Facilitate women’s participation in diverse networking events and professional networking groups. Even in the largest organizations, employees cannot effectively network without external connections..."

----> My Enhancement: It's not just about cultivating external connections. Participate in professional and industry groups and events where you can deepen and broaden your business, financial and strategic acumen. Learn to make the case for organizational support ($$) if it's not already there.

3rd proposed action: "3. Provide a mentor—or better yet, a sponsor—at work."

----> My Commentary: First off, don't just seek a mentor, provide a mentor who will deliver PIE Mentoring (as discussed in my book Make the Most of Mentoring, this is mentoring to understand business Performance (business, financial and strategic acumen), your Image as a leader (including the ability to deliver business savvy messages) and Exposure (to how decisions are made at higher levels and in different parts of the business). If the organization has provided you a mentor, make you are getting PIE Mentoring.

----> Secondly, let me shout it again from my beloved soapbox. SPONSORSHIP IS EARNED! No executive is going to spend social capital advocating for a woman who is not seen as a partner in the business! If you are going to earn the advocacy actions of sponsor(s), you needs PIE Mentoring, the right types of assignments and to use your networks to help you "<drive> broader operational and revenue benefits for <your> organization."

What's a Woman to Do?

As mentioned above, you can:

  1. Assess whether you are using her network in the ways that the senior women studied in this article do. If not...

  2. Utilize networking and your strategic relationships as a tool for further developing and demonstrating business, financial and strategic acumen.
  3. Make sure that you have access to mentor(s) who can provide PIE Mentoring. If you don't, here is a resource to help.

I have always said that the goal for women is not to network per se. It's to strategically network which means building, utilizing and nurturing a network with goal(s) in mind. Therefore,

4. Be sure that you develop, utilize and nurture relationships that can help with goals such as:

  • Achieving the outcomes you're being paid to deliver.

  • Deepening your understanding of the whole business.

  • Understanding and appropriately responding to trends and forces in the marketplace.

  • Using knowledge of the industry when choosing courses of action.

  • Making a business case for your ideas.

  • Using financial and key non-financial performance in decision-making

  • etc.

What matters is not just that you network, it's why and how!

Catch you next time!


PS Was this of value to you? Please share the content with a colleague or friend so she can benefit as well.


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