via Forbes: Most business and leadership gurus tell you that it’s important to network. And for those of us who are eager to succeed, we dutifully follow the advice believing that networking will facilitate and support our ambition.
But what I’ve discovered from coaching professional women for over a decade is that many women have no idea what it means to network to support their aspirations. I label their approach to networking, the ‘throw spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks’ approach. It has no focus or intention. These women go to events, collect business cards, maybe do some follow up, but for the most part their networks consist of a random group of people who barely know them.
So how do successful women network?
Caroline Pugh, chief of staff to the president at Care Journey, is a master networker. In fact, in a recent conversation, Caroline shared with me that she spends 20% of her time networking. Her efforts have produced a strong strategic network. For the purpose of this article, Caroline has tapped into her network and introduced me to Kay Koplovitz, founder of the USA Network and cofounder and chairman of Springboard Enterprises, Jennifer Justice, president of corporate development at Superfly and former attorney to Jay-Z, and Susan Pelczynski, UPWARD Women DC Metro Advisory Board Member. I reached out to each of them to learn more about how successful women approach networking.
Bonnie Marcus: You’ve been extremely successful in male-dominated industries. How has networking influenced your success?
Kay Koplovitz: When I launched Madison Square Garden Sports, which became USA Network, the entire sports, television and cable businesses were run by men. They were my network. I felt comfortable there, as I had male mentors along the way learning the business; men like Bob Rosencrans and Joe Cohen. If you wanted to succeed then, you had to fit in and I think I did. I perceived myself to be a leader and equal to other leaders, so it wasn’t really an issue for me to be a woman in a man’s world. Some of these people are among my close friends even today. Of course, I realized I was operating in a world where women were not allowed back then in the 70’s. There were men’s clubs, social rules as to which tennis or golf clubs you could belong to, lots of places that as a woman I was not permitted access. I really had to find my way around these restrictions and move the men to the places I would be welcome in a firm yet subtle way.
Jennifer Justice: Being a part of the conversation is always helpful. It helps keep me top of mind for business opportunities, allowed me to have a network to ask advice, and enabled me to understand the current market terms of the business. There is no downside to networking.
Susan Pelczynski: Networking is really important for building a book of business and business development. And I think that a lot of people don’t tell you that you need to start that early on in your career. Because by year seven, everyone’s turning around going, ‘Well, what relationships do you have? And how are you bringing in business?’ And networking is really an important part of that.
Marcus: Have you noticed a difference in the type of networks men and women have? If so, what do you see as the major difference and how does that affect career success?
Koplovitz: Yes, I think the networks are very different. Generally, I find that men aggressively use their networks for business and personal enhancement and women use them to engage and often to help others. One of the things we emphasize to women entrepreneurs in our Springboard network of over 700 entrepreneurs who come through our capital raising program, is that the networking is for building business. It’s great to socialize in different networks, but you really have to network with a business purpose if you expect to scale your company. I think men come to that more naturally than women. Fortunately, times are changing and women are becoming much better at targeting outcomes of networking much better than they used to, at least in our world of women in technology and life science entrepreneurs.
Justice: Yes, I’ve noticed a difference as well. Men go to different types of events like sports, golf, and conferences. Women tend to go to events that don’t last as long like dinners, breakfast, lunches, and conferences in their hometown or those that only last a day or so and take place during the week.
There aren’t many forced opportunities for women and very few conferences that blend women of all industries like the Makers conference. Cross-pollinating industries is helpful for all aspects of leadership.
Pelczynski: I agree with Jennifer. Men seem to network through sports and sporting events, like hockey, football, March Madness. They network through golf. There’s a real appeal to golf, because you’re out there for five hours with each other, and you’re way beyond, ‘How many kids do you have?’ and ‘What kind of business you got going?’ So once you’ve been in a conversation with them for longer than an hour and a half, you’re now able to actually start to exchange business opportunities. And so, I think golf is really important because of how long you’re together. And women haven’t been that strong on golf and maybe aren’t that focused on sports. They tend to be more focused on getting the work done, heads down, more achievement-oriented. And then getting home to family and maintaining kids and that sort of things.
Marcus: Do you think women have an advantage when it comes to networking? If so, how can they capitalize on that?
Koplovitz: Women are better at their communication skills and we network using our skills for many different purposes. Social media is second nature for women and in the world of instant communications, I think there is an advantage. That advantage needs to be turned into results. Sometimes that is friendship, but in business it also has to be something else, something to advance your business, introductions to business partners, to funding sources, to mentors and experts. These are all essential.
Justice: I don’t think we have an advantage necessarily, but we do have different skill sets. Women have the ability to connect and ask advice on many levels that blend our personal lives with our professional. We should see networking, however, as part of our career and work day, not an added obligation.
Pelczynski: Yes and no. I think women naturally gravitate towards being helpful, socially responsive, caring in their conversations. Sometimes, especially at women’s networking events, women may gravitate to sharing about children and some struggles around trying to compete with men in a fairly masculine industry perhaps. And they may share recipes etc. That’s okay, but it doesn’t bring in business necessarily. And so, on the one hand I think they form good bonds with each other. And on the other hand, I don’t think they take it to the business conversation to share business with each other.
Marcus: What obstacles do women face networking in male-dominated industries and how can they overcome them?
Koplovitz: It’s hard to give a blanket answer here, as the male-dominated industries tend to be more enterprise and industrial, where there are still fewer women than in more consumer-related sectors. However, I think finding the sponsor inside your company, someone in the C suite or very close to it, who will mentor you and promote you for positions of increased responsibility is very important. You also have to take risk. Take on the challenge you are not quite ready for but will find a way to be successful at it. Mentor others coming behind you, build your leadership skills. As for continuous feedback as to your progress.
Justice: Women should not be forced to go to networking events that are inherently male, like sports. I think women should find their own tribe instead and participate in conferences and networks where there is more commonality and will be more useful in the long run.
Pelczynski: I’m involved in UPWARD for Women. It’s focused on helping directorial-level women get to the C-Suite and on corporate boards. We say, ‘Let’s be intentional with each other. Let’s support each other. And let’s overcome some unintentional bias that may be out there in our decision-making. And be more intentional about supporting other women.’ So one of the things that we do in our networking events for UPWARD is we come to the table with, ‘How can I help you in your career?’ And the women in this level are the busiest women in the region. They are in that directorial-level already. They have families. They’re traveling around. So their time is really, really short. In order to stay focused on how to help each other with business, it’s showing and saying, ‘How can I help you? What specifically do you need? And how can I be active in going that next step to support you with that?’ We’re getting to that business relationship faster and deeper than if we show up with the intention of meeting people.