Bolt Learning’s Katie Jenkins (pictured) says that despite being excellent communicators, women freeze at business events. She offers her top tips to help women effortlessly work the room
Last month my husband and I were at our daughter’s new-parent night out, a social for Year 1 parents. On the way home, I asked my husband what he’d talked about; his work had been the focus, or at least ice-breaker, of most conversations. He’d even got a business card or two.
No-one had asked for, or offered me, business cards, but then I hadn’t thought to ask either. I asked my husband about this, it turns out he’d feel uncomfortable asking a woman for a business card, especially in a social setting.
I think maybe two people in total had even asked me about my work and then it had been a conversation about the trials of juggling work-life with motherhood rather than my work itself.
This reminded me of a blogpost I recently read where the author, a Harvard graduate, mentioned a recent women’s weekend away with 25 college friends. As soon as they settled into the hotel bar on arrival, one woman, the trip organiser, announced, “There is one rule for this trip. We can’t talk about work.” Can you imagine a group of male business school graduates having a reunion weekend with the same rule? Very unlikely.
Whether from our own doing or men’s, the result is the same; women are either left out of, or don’t take part in, many business conversations.
Very few would argue that building a strong and varied business network is invaluable. It leads to increased industry knowledge; to new viewpoints and ideas; gives you a support network and new friendships; opens up career opportunities and advice; and yes, often brings commercial opportunities.
Despite all of this, wholesale conferences have an average of just 5-10% female representation.
Women are often seen as better communicators, better at developing and maintaining relationships but when it comes to building a business focussed network, many are sent into a spin. How can we work together to fix this situation?
If you are a man:
- Ask women what they do for a living, not just in business settings, but in social ones, too. If they’re full-time mums, ask them what they did before kids
- Identify the number of women who are in your network. What’s the ratio? Aim to increase the number by 20% this year.
- Encourage the women on your team to network more frequently and in new ways. Sense check the gender ratio on invite lists to events (and the venue, entertainment, speaker line up…)
If you are a woman:
- Don’t focus on being a ‘networker’, be a ‘connector’. Introduce as many people as you can to one another, in a business setting and socially.
- Don’t limit yourself to targeting women when networking, but do make an effort to elevate other women.
- Be brave. Step outside your comfort zone – go to a conference alone, introduce yourself to a admired senior exec you admire, strike up a conversation with a group of people you don’t know. Don’t rely on others to help build your network, do it yourself!
Want to turbo-charge your networking skills? Take a look at this FREE 15 minute networking module, developed exclusively by Bolt Learningfor Women in Wholesale. You can login here: http://boltlearning.com/networking