Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Notes from 3/18 Discussion Group - Networking

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and I’ve been somewhat negligent about updating my blog. Before I begin my summary of our discussion from yesterday, I do want to clarify something. Our discussion topic for this month is simply networking. I chose the article How to Network for Introverts because I thought it had good advice on networking effectively for anyone and also because I wanted to be sensitive to the barriers that prevent many of us from building effective networks.

I want to thank everyone who came out to B Java on a rainy Tuesday morning. I’m happy to report that we had a larger group than last month and several first time attendees. I’m quite heartened to see the interest in these forums growing.

Obviously, everyone who attended appreciated the importance of networking. The challenge comes with doing this effectively. One topic that came up early in our discussion was how to network effectively within a company when you are working there as a contractor. Those of us at the meeting had experienced this from both sides; working as a contractor or working with a contractor. Most companies have policies that preclude contractors from participating in company sponsored events, which can limit the contractor’s networking opportunities. While there isn’t much we can do about company policies, there are things those of us who work with contractors can do to make this situation less awkward for all involved. A situation was described where employees were planning an event that excluded contractors, right in front of their contractor colleagues. Paying attention and being sensitive to the situation would have gone a long way in preventing hurt feelings.

Another topic for discussion was whether men and women approach networking differently. I’d tried to find an article that focused on this topic for our discussion but wasn’t able to find one. (If you know of a good reference article, please let me know.) About the closest I came was an article on the obstacles to women achieving leadership roles in the Harvard Business Review (Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership, September 2007). One of the obstacles identified was “underinvestment in social capital”. Studies have shown that socializing, politicking, and having external interactions have been correlated with rapid career advancement and that “social capital is even more necessary to managers’ advancement than skillful performance of traditional managerial tasks.” Women as a whole tend to focus more on job performance and deliverables and less on socializing and building “social capital” to the detriment of their careers.

Another barrier identified is that family obligations often leave women little time for socializing with colleagues and building professional networks. However, time isn’t the only barrier. Especially in fields where women are in the minority, networking tends to center around activities that would preclude women, golf, sporting events, and the like. The recent Wal-Mart gender discrimination case cited examples of managers meetings that included trips to strip clubs and executive hunting retreats. This creates quite the conundrum for a woman. By not participating, she’s excluded from important relationship-building activities. However, her participation would likely make the men feel uncomfortable and could damage her relationships and reputation. Women can hold their own networking events but until there is gender equality in the executive suite, this will only get us so far.

During the discussion, people also shared stories of where attempts to network and build relationships with other people had left them feeling used. We could all relate to the story of being pleased to receive an invitation to lunch only to find that the person who extended the invitation really wanted to talk about job opportunities at your company. Another example shared was receiving an invitation to a colleague’s home only to find out it’s for a Mary Kay party. The point was that people wanted to feel as though others were being up front about their intentions. The person who was invited to lunch would have been happy to talk about job opportunities and would have had a more positive impression had the intent been made clear. So, when utilizing your network, be sure that the person you want the favor from doesn’t feel manipulated.

We finished up our conversation by sharing the organizations and activities we felt had been most useful for us with our personal networking.

Non profit groups: The United Way, Dress for Success, Girls Inc., The American Lung Assn.

Professional Associations: Project Management Institute, Indianapolis Quality Assurance Assn., Indiana Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, Assn. of Women in Science, Central Indiana Society of Women Engineers, National Assn. of Women Business Owners, Network of Women in Business

Community Groups: the Chamber of Commerce, Business and Professional Exchange, Scientech Club, Venture Club of Indiana

Just to show how networking can happen at any time, during this discussion BJ Davis, our hostess and owner of B Java, stopped by our table to tell us about another networking group that also meets at her coffee shop - Smaller Indiana. None of us had heard of the group so I decided to check out their web site. Smaller Indiana makes creative people and innovative ideas easier to find. This is the place for you to share your ideas and engage with Indiana's most creative and inspired souls...working together to build community, culture and commerce. It looks like their web site has some very interesting tools that will fit into next month’s topic on “virtual networking”, so more to come.

Clubs and activities you do for fun are also a great source for meeting new people and expanding your network. If you go to Google and type in the words “Indianapolis” and “Club”, there are hundreds of clubs that that show up in the results list. Another great source to find people with similar interests is It’s a great resource for connecting with people who share common interests.

This is by no means meant to be an extensive list of local networking organizations and opportunities. I hope those of you reading this blog will share your favorite networking groups and organizations.

I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation next week when we meet at D’Vine. If you can’t join us, or if you can’t wait till then to share your thoughts, please post your comments.

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