The social art of networking is an almost necessary skill for most successful business people, particularly those in entrepreneurial capacities. The very nature of the role calls for the ability to get out there, create, and maintain business relationships, almost from scratch. Books and seminar tickets are sold worldwide – a multimillion-dollar industry – all focused on giving business people the tools and knowledge necessary to become effective networkers.
Earlier this week, a male colleague made the passing comment that women don’t realize the advantage they hold in the business world by being natural-born networkers. I took pause at that comment. I mean, the women in my life do seem to possess a lot of the traits necessary in succeeding at this task. They’re outgoing, pleasant, great listeners, diplomatic, generally non-threatening, and have often perfected juggling a myriad of personal and professional commitments at any given hour in the day. So why then, with networking being such an integral part of managing business relationships and women supposedly having such a natural disposition towards it, does it seem like there are so many challenges when women face a professional environment for networking? Are we just not putting these natural talents to use? Or does it require some tweaking on our part to translate these skills into an effective business model?
I took it upon myself to do a little surface research, speaking to some of the women in my life and asking them about their individual networking patterns and experiences. The results of my little mini-experiment were quite revealing. There was almost nothing significantly different in the way that these women introduced themselves, carried themselves, appropriated body language, or maintained contact after initial meetings. The logistics were all pretty standard and could have come right out of a ‘How to Network Effectively’ handbook. The only difference? The most successful (attributed to financial and career success) were able to identify these behavioural patterns as “networking,” while the others insisted that it wasn’t “networking” – it was just meeting new people.
Of course, my conversation with six or seven friends can hardly be considered conclusive evidence, but I think there’s some validity to these findings. While the skills could very well be inherent in women to be effective networkers, perhaps what’s actually needed is a consciousness of the value these skills bring within the corporate sphere. This recognition could very well enhance the most important part of any networking opportunity: translating that first introduction into a viable business transaction, whether through the trading of services or the exchange of money for products or services.
So are women natural-born networkers? I’d hesitate to paint an entire gender with so broad a brush. But for those of us who are blessed with the gift of gab and a knack for meeting new people, a full understanding of the value of that gift can enhance any opportunity to gain new and valued client relationships, and furthermore, can do no harm in working towards ultimate business success.