As the saying goes, “it’s not what you know but who you know” — and the reality today is that if you want to be successful, you need to have a great network of relevant connections.
In fact, a report from Virgin found that up to 46 per cent of jobs are filled through networking, with online job boards coming in at just 25 per cent.
Yet despite networking being a necessary element of any professional’s career, one in four of us still don’t get involved, and women network significantly less than men.
This imbalance is ultimately fuelling gender inequality, and can have a big impact on career opportunities.
For example, while women comprise 73 per cent of the workforce in entry and junior-level positions, they represent less at every senior role, filling just 32 per cent of director-level posts.
Networking can help level the playing field by increasing visibility, building self-confidence, improving soft skills, and potentially opening the door for new opportunities.
However, few women utilise networking effectively.
Typically, we associate networking with the “old boys’ club” of heading to the pub after work. In these scenarios, women can be drowned out by boisterous men who have a clear goal in mind, and who are comfortable asking for what they want.
A study by the University of California found that women who try to network like men often struggle to get ahead, particularly compared to those with a close inner circle of other women. So rather than trying to beat men at their own game, women need to make their own mark based on shared interests.
Backing social causes and attending fundraising galas are more popular among women, because they offer the chance to meet like-minded individuals and share different perspectives and expertise.
Supporting these sorts of causes can provide an empowering sense of reciprocity, as women can contribute something positive to society while also supporting their own future ambitions. That’s why I founded two charities that aim to bring together diverse groups of women through shared interests and beliefs.
Another point to bear in mind is that having a mentor who offers direction and honest feedback can have a tremendous impact on a woman’s professional career.
However, studies have shown that women often seek mentors who they can be friends with, rather than someone who they can learn from.
Attending events which centre on developing meaningful connections can help women to find a mentor who will challenge them and encourage them to take on projects that they might otherwise avoid.
Professional women have a responsibility to help the younger generation excel and advance more effectively. Networking with more junior professionals is just as important as with senior colleagues, as it gives everyone the chance to see things in a different light.
In the current business climate, this sort of activity can generate great opportunities for women.
Good networking is about more than the odd phone call or a few half-hearted emails. It’s about engaging with people to build personal and professional relationships.
After all, Virgin’s research also found that 85 per cent of people prefer face-to-face interactions, despite the fact that we live in an age of instant communication.
Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. While some women might be comfortable with traditional networking methods, others would do better to cultivate a supportive female community that hold similar values which are truly important to them.