Clubbing With The Boys – Networking Tips for Women Networking with Men
Marion M. who is a senior partner at a major business consultancy, was brought up on the dictum that she had to be twice as smart and work twice as hard as her male colleagues. She always worked long hours, and passed on many an invitation to join the guys at the local bar while she stayed on at the office to run the numbers on a pending deal. But she couldn’t help but notice that while she worked harder, her more social male colleagues seemed to be getting ahead faster. This truly hit home when Tom, who headed up Global Investments, postponed a meeting to go on a trip to California. She assumed that he was traveling on important business, but it turned out that he was actually flying to the other end of the country to play golf. For Marion, an excursion like this would have been unthinkable. But for Tom, the opportunity to tee off at the Riveria, one of California’s most exclusive clubs, represented a priceless networking opportunity. Indeed, socializing is as important a part of Tom’s business persona as his facility with structured financing, and it shows in his status and paycheck. “What I learned from that,” she says, “is that women need to get over the idea that their effort and talent will speak for themselves. We women think of ourselves as having superior interpersonal skills. We have the warmth and empathy, but in a business environment, it’s actually the men who are instinctively comfortable with the collegial aspects of getting ahead, like going to lunch, leaving the office early to play golf, or chatting about the latest football scores.”
Similarly, Amy Henry of Apprentice fame, writes that early on in her career, she was always focused on the work, confident that it was the single driver to boost her up the career ladder. She quickly realized she was wrong. Advancing your career is not just about the work, she contends, but who you know, and who knows what you are doing. Every successful woman in business has connections, work associates with whom business is the basis of the relationship, as well as strategic relationships that are both helpful to you and the other person. Women who want to advance their careers need to develop a network of smart, influential people who are familiar with their knowledge, accomplishments and strengths. And if you are one of very few women in the upper reaches of a corporation, it means learning to network with men.
I have been coaching, training and speaking around the world on a variety of topics from Maximizing Your Presence to Networking For Success, and the one factor common to the many successful and high- powered women I have coached is their ability to network as effortlessly with men as with women. This is an ability that has not always come easily. But it is critical if you as a woman are going to become a major player in whatever business you choose.
Developing a network requires developing an entirely new attitude; it often means adjusting your communication styles, looking carefully at how you express yourself and to whom. You need to have an impact on the most influential people who are in a position to promote you, listen to you and act on your suggestions.
The critical factor here is that you need to understand your relationship with the concept of networking and redefine it in your mind. It is a critical business tool and it needs to be a natural and effortless part of your personal skill set. Indeed, in situations where you may be the only woman executive in a roomful of men, you need to get yourself into a personal space where networking with men feels as comfortable as shopping with your girlfriends.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH GETTING AHEAD
Women pride themselves on their warmth and sensitivity, but in the business world it is actually men who are more comfortable with the interpersonal aspects of getting ahead. Networking is critical to career success because it gives you access to information and to people who can enhance your career and life in general in the short and long run. But these kinds of relationships can take a conscious effort to develop. Yaarit S. a senior partner in a male- dominated business consulting firm, says that men seem to instinctively know that merit alone is not the key to success, while women find it harder to accept because on so many levels it seems “unfair”.
LIGHT THE FIRE
What it really comes down to is overcoming an aversion on the part of women to the kind of subtle and sometimes overtly aggressive jockeying for position that they perceive as a male prerogative. Indeed, in my workshops on Networking For Success, we spend a great deal of time looking at the “What Stops me doing it better” obstacles. For many women, it is both the problem of time in terms of juggling family and career, but more often than not, it is the “I don’t want to be political” or “I don’t want to be pushy” or “I don’t want to have to ask for anything”. It is vitally important to change this mindset, because if you see networking as politicking, rather than developing critical connections with people who you can assist and who can assist you in your career, you will never maximize your ability to do it better than you are right now.
I have found that a very effective approach to networking with men is to “Light a F-I-R-E”, that is, examine your Feelings; work on being Interested, Interesting and Informed; be Relaxed; and Engage with Energy and Enthusiasm.
F- For this reason, it is important to first examine how you feel about yourself. Women, and particularly those who were told to behave like ladies, often feel reluctant to speak up. However, all of the highly successful women I have spoken to say that in order to make it in a man’s world, you have to get over this reluctance. Lynn W. a senior executive at a national building supply chain, emphasizes the importance of non-verbal cues. “A good handshake and meeting of eyes is a great way to set the stage as equals and radiate self confidence, but not arrogance,” she says.
I – If you can work on becoming Interested, Interesting and Informed, you will find socializing in a room full of men a much more enjoyable and productive experience. People of both genders respond very positively to someone who shows genuine interest in what they are saying. Generally speaking, women are better listeners than men, mainly because we are taught early on to not be rude and not interrupt others. However, whatever your gender, it is critical to listen. People remember how you make them feel, much more than what you actually say, and listening makes people feel cared for and understood.
As Lynne W. says, “being able to converse easily with men and women has helped me build relationships that have spanned continents and careers. Men are also human. There is nothing wrong with taking the initiative to start conversations.”
But what can you do to break an awkward silence? Not all of us have the capacity to play golf or learn the rules of football. I always suggest to my female clients that they should work on becoming more informed, by following current affairs, listening to news programs, and watching the stock market. To stay interested, Lynne W., who works in the male- dominated industry of international logistics, suggests picking up free local magazines to keep up with local buzz/news, even if just to read headlines. “You’ll be surprised at how those tidbits of information can help break the ice in many situations and transform you quickly as the go-to person in your network, professionally and personally,” she says.
Lynelle G. the Director of Communications and Marketing at a pharmaceutical company, who has found herself the ONLY woman in the boardroom on numerous occasions, says she talks about travel, current events and investments. Having grown up in Detroit, she can also talk about cars and firearms. This way she not only reveals herself as worldly and informed, but also reveals her business savvy.
“The men assume that I don’t know much about science,” she says, “so I try to quickly reveal that I do have expertise in the field. I prove it by being really confident. I’ll talk about work, travel and current events, but I am careful not to talk about shopping or hair.” Like many other women who have penetrated into a male-dominated world, Lynelle has developed a sensitivity to gender differences in conversational styles. “Men see themselves by job, while women see themselves as mother, wife and then their career. I generally avoid bringing up the topic of children, and definitely stay away from hot-button political and religious issues,” she said. “Good restaurants, good food, and wine are much safer topics these days, especially if you have been able to do some traveling.”
In her conversations with men, Yaarit S. finds it important to take the time to learn what their area of passion is. She asks many questions and looks for clues and leads, but never presumes anything. In casual conversation she finds out their interests, which by the way, do NOT always include golf (a total assumption) but many times activities like sailing or charity work, that they spend a great deal of their time involved in. In general, when asking questions, it is important that you leave the answer open-ended. If the individual can answer with a simple Yes or Now, you are going to find yourself with nowhere to go. For many suggestions of questions with open-ended answers, you should check in with my “The Little Book of Big Networking Ideas.”
And what if the conversation doesn’t seem to be taking off? Lynn Wong offers these words of reassurance: “Don’t take it personally – men and women have differing levels of sensitivity to vocabulary. Remember to focus on the tangibles and not read emotions between the lines. It’s easy to mistake constructive feedback for criticism when women let feelings get in the way.”
To create credibility for herself, Yaarit S. emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of your feminine sensitivity and emotional intelligence to sense where the individual is coming from. “I try not to genderize, but often men are much more competitive in conversation than women,” she says. She personally chooses NOT to compete, but rather listen carefully, identify with the experience, encapsulate what they are saying, identify with it and then deflect it back to them. “When a guy goes on and on about how brilliant he has been, I try to paraphrase what he has said, and turn it around and try to find common ground. In this way, I can communicate my own accomplishments.”
For example, she was recently in conversation with a client who was going into great detail about how successful he had been in turning around a fortune 500 company. Rather than one up him, Yaarit listened carefully then communicated that she understood the challenges he had faced because she herself had recently grown a company by 500%. By saying, “I am interested in learning how you dealt with a similar situation,” she ensured that he understood her power, knowledge and achievement in a non-threatening way.
R- Relax! In order to elicit the feeling of safety we have to be confident and relaxed about ourselves In his book, “Influence, the Science and the Practice,” Robert Cialdini writes about the very primitive need we all have to be protected. He contends that people will do business with people who make them feel safe. Consequently, men will do business with women they trust and who make them feel safe. For this reason, dressing flamboyantly or sexy clothing is a definite no-no. I often say to women that dressing provocatively and flirting may get you a date, but it won’t get you the business. Relaxed, confident women who appear smart and authoritative are much more likely to evoke that response.
Similarly, Yaarit S. attributes her success in succeeding in a predominantly male world to being herself. “I am more often than not the only woman at meetings, and what works for me is to be totally relaxed, and exude a sense of my right to be there. I don’t work too hard at trying to overcompensate and prove myself.” What she does, as John Kehoe says, is “let success vibrate within you”.
E- Negative personalities repel networks. You need to like yourself, warts and all, and engage with a level of energy, excitement and enthusiasm. And what if you land up in a situation that can get you into a flat panic? Try improvising. Lynne Wong found herself in a situation like that, and this is what she did:
I participated in an HR team building session where I found myself the only female with a group of six other (older) men. We were presented with a scenario where we were stranded in the Cascade Mountain ranges, after our rescue helicopter had crashed and our pilot dead in the process. We were told to prioritize a list of 12 items we had that could greatly extend our ability to survive till rescue was on the way. We had to undertake the exercise first as individuals, and then come together as a group of seven to put together our prioritized list. I don’t know anything about outdoor survival tactics at all and most of the men in the group were either avid campers or fans of outdoor camping shows. One man in particular served for several years in the military – I was clearly out of my league. I dealt with that creeping sense of helplessness by switching on my listening ears and asking questions. That helped keep me engaged in the discussion and contributing through another perspective. Most of the men were eagerly sharing suggestions – I was able to make mental notes about how my list compares with theirs (had a few laughs at my own expense), appreciate their perspective, and assume the position of the mediator in leading our group to consensus on our prioritized list. It was a successful team building experience as I was able to contribute to the team and get to know new colleagues in the process, adding them to my network of contacts.
NOW YOU ARE GETTING INTO THE SWING OF IT!
As you can see, learning to play the social networking game with the men who continue to dominate the upper echelons of the business world is as important an element of your career as your skills and work ethic. This does not mean that you have to go out and buy a set of clubs, learn to play pool, or study the baseball box scores. Just don’t rush home every night, even if you are planning to carry on working when you get there. Rather, join the boys on occasion. Extend the work day into the evening maybe once or twice a month. As Amy Henry says: “You don’t have to be part of every outing or industry soiree, but don’t fall into the habit of perpetual absenteeism either.”