Professionelle’s Passion For Networking
By Galia BarHava-Montieth
Time and time again, I get asked: Why are we so passionate about networking for women in Professionelle?
Well, the real truth of it is that we learned the hard way. I never used to network; I didn’t see the point of it really. I saw networking as artificial and I felt that it was inconsistent with my personal values. Of course, I also didn’t have the time. I had a young baby and a full-on job and my perception of networking was that it was a forced situation, usually involving drinks and superficial conversations. I also felt that I was already in touch with all the people I would ever want to be in touch with and that I could be introduced to any further people through my existing contacts.
Then I had another baby, my position was made redundant and my former employer moved offices. Just like that, I dropped off the radar and lost contact with numerous colleagues and associates. The timeframe in which you start to feel like you are totally forgotten and completely irrelevant professionally is shockingly fast!
Over the next few years I worked hard to re-establish my professional contacts. I decided that my approach had been far too narrow and that I needed to keep my mind open to new networking opportunities and give them a go. Sarah and I also started Professionelle and we began to seriously study the things that are really important and beneficial for professional working women’s careers and personal well-being.
It turns out that seasoned professionals and academics (both men and women) view networking as a powerful tool for career progression and building personal and professional resilience. And unsurprisingly, it is also widely acknowledged that women under-invest in their social capital through networking, largely due to multiple demands on their time.
Since we established Professionelle, we’ve conducted online surveys, interviewed women in all stages of their career, coached, conducted workshops and had many informal discussions on this very topic and our findings have been remarkably consistent – professional women, throughout their careers and across occupations, don’t spend much time networking. Some don’t see the value in it at all but many others have the same reservations I had and often feel under-equipped to network effectively.
Why is Networking Such a Powerful Tool?
There are so many answers to this question that I find it difficult to know where to begin. Going back to my own journey, networking is a wonderful way to get perspective. As I began feeling more and more professionally irrelevant and isolated, having my husband and friends tell me that it wasn’t the case, in truth, didn’t really help. I thought that they were saying it just to be nice but when I caught up with a professional colleague who was genuinely interested in what I was doing and in my plans for the future, it was like a physical boost to my professional self-esteem.
Talking to a wide range of people from different companies brings you a diversity of thought and really does give you a wonderful perspective, opening your eyes to possibilities and avenues you might not have realised were available or even possible for you. In truth, the seeds for Professionelle were planted in my mind during a networking coffee with a former colleague who set up her own business as a contractor, one who has since become one of our staunchest supporters.
Networking can be powerful in building personal and professional resilience, as was the case for me, as an effective way to find out about professional opportunities inside and outside your company, and also to build relationships with individuals who could, over time, act as informal mentors.
People in all occupations and employment configurations (full time, part time, self employed) benefit from networking, be it through the informal conversations that allow you to find out about a new and exciting project in your company’s pipeline, or through an introduction that might lead to a new customer.
But my definition of networking isn’t confined to an ‘event’. To me, networking is any opportunity to talk to someone new. In fact, my preference is towards the more intimate side of the networking scale. I value having lunch or coffee. These give me an opportunity to really get to know someone and learn about them and what they do. However, more often than not, I have met these exciting people in a formal event (and increasingly, through Professionelle), yet again illustrating powerfully and personally that it is through ‘being out there’ that you really get to meet people you wouldn’t normally be able to!
So, How Do You Go About It?
Most professional women instinctively see the value in networking but the barriers are the same as mine used to be; many women see networking events as phoney and disingenuous. They believe that the people who attend them are only there to see how others can help them or to generate business. In short, they don’t think people attend networking events in order to ‘just’ meet and build genuine relationships.
The truth is that some people do treat networking in a superficial way. But what matters is how you approach networking. If you go about it in a genuine way, wanting to get to know people and how you can help others, then your networking will be authentic and will be seen as such by others. You’re also more likely to really enjoy the experience. Positive Psychology researchers consistently find that people who gear themselves in a way which is focused on others’ needs, rather than on their own, end up happier and more personally and professionally fulfilled, and more resilient.
My first tip is to approach networking as a legitimate way of being nosey! Here’s a perfectly socially respectable way to ask lots of questions and find out what people do and what they are professionally (and sometime personally) up to. Most people who come to networking events are very comfortable with my ‘interrogations’ because they like to share what they do – and I love to find out!
You might want to decide before a networking event that you will talk to at least four people you haven’t met before. After all, there isn’t much point going to these events if you spend the whole time talking to your colleagues… but I am always surprised to see how many people do exactly that. Sarah and I have a rule: we try not to sit next to each other at networking events. It might pay to have the same rule for yourself and your colleagues the next time you attend one together.
As I said earlier, I like to get to know people personally over coffee or lunch. I always make a point of following up with people I connected with after a formal event. Mostly, it doesn’t progress further than that one follow up, but on occasion these catch-ups develop into a wonderful professional or personal relationship. So the moral is: you never know what will happen. As Sarah says, with a nod to Forrest Gump, networking is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!
When we set up Professionelle, we approached networking very seriously. We attended as many networking events as we could as we saw them (wisely I might add!) as a way to build our profile, meet other professional women and find out what really mattered to them.
After a while, I took stock and discovered that I find some networking events unpleasant whereas others I really enjoyed. I systematically looked to see what were the common themes in the events I liked – was it the speaker? The mix of people? By doing that, I was able to determine that I’d rather attend some but not others. I highly recommend you do the same. Networking should be enjoyable and fun, not a chore. We have enough of those already!
What’s Professionelle’s Approach to Networking?
As we’ve built Professionelle, Sarah and I have observed several interesting – and unexpected – things about women and networking, ones we haven’t read about or heard about elsewhere.
What we can tell you is this: at the Professionelle networking events you will get to talk about a meaty topic with other women who are like you. We’ll present a brief introduction for half an hour or less, and you’ll get to discuss key questions relating to the topic and briefly present them back to the group. We’ll ensure you are sitting next to two women you’ve never met before so you really get to network.
To find out when the next Professionelle seminar is, simply visit our events and workshop section and book a seat online. Hope to see you there!
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Ready to find out more?
If you would like to find out more about Professionelle and how we might benefit you or your organisation, please contact our Director, Jayne Chater on firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 779 967.