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Why Women's Networking Groups Fail - Forbes

Question asked by katie.mehnert Champion on Feb 12, 2015
Latest reply on May 21, 2015 by susan.hodge

Why Women's Networking Groups Fail


I’ve always taken a bit of a contrarian's view when it comes to networking for women. Sure, I join them, but it troubles me that these events and the groups that host them are self-segregated groups meant to help women to succeed by building a solid community of women to [...]

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Why Women's Networking Groups Fail

I’ve always taken a bit of a contrarian’s view when it comes to networking for women. Sure, I join them, but it troubles me that these events and the groups that host them are self-segregated groups meant to help women to succeed by building a solid community of women to help lift each other up.

No matter how many meetings I attend and business cards I pocket, I can’t stop asking myself this question: can a women’s networking group help a young woman break into the boy’s club, no matter how many strong their numbers are?

Three years into covering women, business and the myriad struggles that entails, I’m not so sure I buy it.

So when I read a recent HBR blog post by Athena Vongalis-Macrow who offered four questions to ask when assessing the value of a network, I was struck by how helpful they were in looking both at my own professional networking groups and the many I come across on the job. Where too many focus on the strength of numbers, the real sign of a healthy—and helpful—professional networking group is who’s there and how they communicate.

Who is in the network?

Research from IDEO and Stanford University identifies the ideal make-up of a network: “Part pack-rat, part librarian and part Good Samaritan.” The pack rat brings documents and resources collected over a long career that can be tapped to create new ideas and connections; the librarian brings the latest data and pertinent information; the Good Samaritan, though, might be the most integral player—she’s there to help out at every turn. According to IDEO this combination is the best balance of resources, information and good intentions to make a network not just functional, but beneficial to all members. Missing one part? You might want to move on.

How well does the network connect?

Does your network get together on the first Wednesday of the month and operate with a policy of radio silence for the next 30 days? Many do, limiting networks and connections to within the confines of events. For the young women among us (read: me) this can leave you unsure of whether or not to follow up with that brilliant executive you met. Will your persistence annoy her? Will she think you’re rude? Maybe better to wait till next month…

But healthy networks don’t limit themselves to monthly (or worse, quarterly) meetings.  Vongalis-Macrow describes a more functional group that’s “Like a spiderweb,” drawing many different people together. What kinds of events and on-going projects? Look for “Invitation-only reading groups that led to research collaborations, grant applications, and proposals for joint books,” she writes. “These meetings and projects could entail a senior person working with someone more junior in a mentoring capacity. Joining a network that has professional associations means that the connections can share and enhance common goals, goodwill, commitment, and interests.”

Is there functional communication?

“If your network operates under an ethos of support,” Vongalis-Macrow writes, “It means that your frustrations and disappointments will be heard in order to resolve problems, lend support, and provide assistance to overcome your frustrations and prevent burnout.”

I don’t think I’m only speaking for myself when I say we aren’t always “our best” when we straggle into networking events at six thirty on a weeknight. Our feet might hurt, our days might have been stressful, we might even have gotten reamed out for leaving the office before seven—even though we came in early to make up the difference, for god’s sake. If your networking group isn’t a place where you can share your concerns—even your frustrations and defeats—then it may not be the most fostering environment for your career aspirations. Best-case scenario? One where you can share the events of the day with a group member, and be encouraged by their response, advice or future solution to the problem.

Jennifer Emerson, You are the women's network president at Shell, right?  
I think this is an interesting point.  Women's networking groups can easily family if there is dysfucntional communications, systems and processes.  What do you think?  What are some of the things Shell has done to to be so successful in creating value for your women?

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