The importance of (women’s) networking
By Natasha Jones - Senior Associate, Landscape
The fifth International Women in Engineering Day takes place on 23 June to raise the profile of women in engineering and the career opportunities available for girls. INWED is important because there remains a gender imbalance in the industry; we are all aware that there are simply more men than women working in the built environment professions.
It’s an issue that prompted a group of PBA female staff to set up the Women’s Network @ PBA to provide ongoing development and support to the many talented women working in the Practice. It’s a network run by women for women, but which welcomes the voices and participation of men. We recognise the value of the involvement of all genders and a mixture of opinions, in a forum which shares knowledge and experiences while offering the chance to make connections.
It’s making connections that can really help women succeed in our industry, and it’s not an easy thing to do. I personally used to dread attending business networking events: walking cold into a room full of men in suits was something I feared and I always felt like a stranger in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t have the “sales pitches” to break into closed conversations and would find myself dismissed and waiting in a corner for the session to be over.
About seven years ago, I went to a women’s networking event run by Indigo Network which was friendly, welcoming, and purely focussed on making new connections. Four years ago, I joined the team behind Indigo Network, creating events and running speed networking sessions for LGBT women in the South West region of the UK. Since then I’ve also taken part in Women in Property events and I’m part of the team who successfully relaunched, and now lead, the Women’s Network @ PBA.
Through my experiences I’ve discovered that the way men and women typically network is very different. Mary-Jane Kingsland, founder of the Norwich Business Women’s Network says:
“I think men are generally more aggressive about networking. Very quickly in a conversation they’ll suss whether you’re interesting or not, and if you get stuck next to somebody who doesn’t think you’re interesting, that can be a blow to your confidence.”
It’s no wonder then, that many women do not feel welcome in a typical, male-dominated networking event. The key difference is that women’s networks are less about selling, and more about sharing.
Benefits of women’s styles of networking include finding valuable long-term business contacts, hearing advice from peers and experts, sharing knowledge and experiences, all with an emphasis on making connections and collaboration.
Networking is also about using your ‘social capital’ and can help you to reach those top jobs or progress as far as you want in your career. Natasha Abajian undertook a study which found that aspirational professional women would benefit from a better understanding of how to build, maintain and use their social capital to succeed in reaching the top. She said:
“Access to social networks typically differs for men and for women. Usually, women have less access to networks typically associated with career progression. These networks or ‘who you know and who knows you’ are responsible for a large percentage of career progression, so limited access could be a barrier to women’s opportunities.”
Power in attending women’s events and networks, through connectivity with peers, was also found in Shawn Anchor’s study (Power in Uniting Women) which identified benefits such as: lower stress levels, increased optimism and positive mindsets; as well as increased likelihoods of pay rises and promotions. Shawn says:
“There is power in connectivity, and it’s not just about gender. Men and women alike can benefit from the power of connection.”
Laurie Dalton White, founder of Conferences for Women, concurs:
“Something special happens when you see that you are not alone. Making connections and building relationships with other attendees and speakers helps women form an understanding of their worth, and then they learn strategies to ask for promotions, seek fair pay and even become mentors to others.”
So now we know that networking is not all about the grey-suited sales pitch; it is about building yourself a useful network of connections, with those different connections made for specific reasons. The women’s group can help both women and men find new and beneficial networks, that benefit both the individual and the firm we work for!