A Networking Hater’s Guide to Networking
I have two coffees with strangers on my Google calendar for October. That this is a major professional milestone is a testament to how diligently I have avoided networking. It’s not that I don’t like meeting people; I am an enthusiastic extrovert. But as soon as a transactional thread is introduced — the thought that someday, my “connection” with the person I’m talking to will “pay off” — I feel very unsure of myself.
At the same time, I’m aware that networking is important, and that it’s especially important for women. In February, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study showing that effective networking looks very different for men and women. For men, it was enough to be central to their professional networks: Men with a lot of industry acquaintances were way more likely to be placed in high-up leadership positions.
But for women, that wasn’t enough. “Women who have networks that resemble those of high-placing men are low-placing, despite having leadership qualifications comparable to high-placing women,” the study authors wrote. In addition to wide networks, the women who were placed in the most senior leadership positions also had an “inner circle” that was dominated by women in their field.
Basically, it wasn’t enough to meet other people in my industry; I had to make industry friends. I had to meet a lot of women, and then I had to suck them into my life like a squid sucks prey into its gullet, immobilizing them with its tentacles and then drawing them ever closer.
Historically, my networking strategy has been more like the feeding habits of a sea anemone: I wait passively on the seafloor for the currents to deliver fish into my mouth. If the current does not pull the fish away, then over time he or she becomes a “connection.” My network was composed of people who have been delivered to me by various jobs and, through minimal effort on my part, stuck around in my life. It was a solid network, but it was small.
That wasn’t a problem when I was working in an office. But when I left my job and started freelancing last year, my universe immediately…