Networking for women has always posed unique problems and advantages. The organizations that exist for men to make connections don't parallel for women. This can make networking a somewhat more different experience for women than it is for men.
What sorts of networks do women create?
Women tend to build business networks as they build personal networks. Women are typically tighter than men's business networks and provide more personal support, but that doesn't do much when it comes to event networking.
People emphasize shared value systems and authenticity for women more than is practical for event networking. While tight-knit networks built on trust are important, there is also a place for dispersed networks and both serve different purposes.
If your aim is to get your name out there or simply to have more contacts in your industry, event networking provides a scale and atmosphere to achieve these goals quickly.
Creating Better Spaces for Women to Network
Another issue in networking for women is the same issue professional women always run into - women still carry the majority of housework and child/elder care, meaning time for extracurricular events has limits.
The idea of handing out cards to whoever they meet at events seems time-wasting. By contrast, many women say they prefer to network strategically, during the course of the work day. If you're struggling to commit to events, look in your area for smaller meetups. Lunchtime seminars provide a great way to fit in networking while not eating up free-time.
This insight into how women look at networking should be instructive to those trying to plan women's networking events. Keep in mind that creating more personal relationships is going to be a higher priority than sheer number of connections and efficiency is paramount. Both of these elements should be reflected in your event design.
Looking at how women's priorities tend to differ in networking might also give space for some self-reflection for those trying to improve their networking abilities.
What events are you not attending or not engaging in, because you are unable to? Which are you simply avoiding because it might be awkward or difficult? It's important to be aware of why certain events are working for you, rather than just writing them off as a failure. Knowing that you're struggling to enjoy an event because it's too impersonal gives you a way to build your own strategies to improve that.
Networking Effectively at Events
Conferences and large events are ideal for networking because you are sure to have something in common with the people around you. Keep in mind that event networking is a numbers game. While several short conversations might seem unproductive, keep a specific goal in mind while having these conversations. Are you looking for a career mentor, a business relationship, or simply insights into your industry from others?
Be specific. While it's always good to be open-minded, make sure to emphasize what you can do for the other person, and what they can do for you. Have a clear picture of your skills, and exactly what is missing in your career you believe networking can solve. Otherwise risk becoming swallowed in an endless series of small-talk-based conversations, with no concrete vision of a follow up.
Awkward silence is one fear that makes stomachs turn. Events make this awkwardness a much more controllable anxiety (which might seem counterintuitive at first glance). Prepared conversation topics are virtually handed to you - make use of them.You know what the seminars will be about, you know the general interests of the attendees.
Get an idea of who you want to meet at an event before you go there. If the event is using a networking app, socializing will be easy, but you can get a sense of who will attend via social media platforms.
A final note about networking: cover as much ground as possible. People have a tendency to choose a place and stay there, but you risk missing out on meeting someone if you do the same.
Networking at events needn't be overwhelming, but if you're used to creating small networks, it is a different approach. Make the most of what an event has to offer by doing a little bit of research in advance. Happy networking!
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