Networking Effectively May Not Look the Same For Everyone

In case you haven’t seen it, there was an article making the rounds recently entitled For Women Job Seekers, Networking Like a Man Isn’t Enough.

It involved a study that showed that men are generally successful networking a certain way, and building a certain kind of network, but for women, something else was required:

What they found was that men with meaningful connections to influential peers across the student body were 1.5 times more likely to be hired in a highly ranked leadership position after graduation, compared with men who were less well connected to their peers. Women with the same kind of strong connections across the student body didn’t fare as well. The women who landed the best jobs tended to have both strong connections to the student body and a tighter inner circle of at least two or three women.

Now, there is quite a bit to unpack in that paragraph alone, but the biggest question is why. What does having a handful of very close women have to do with being successful in a job search?

The article offers one explanation:

That tight-knit circle of other women provides a crucial benefit to women job seekers—what the authors of the study refer to as “gender-specific private information and support.” That means insight into questions such as the following: Does this company treat women well? Are women leaders respected? Is this a hostile work environment? Is the company looking to increase its gender diversity? The study authors hypothesize that the answers to these questions help women apply to jobs that better fit them, tailor their interviews to the work culture, and negotiate better. Men, conversely, don’t need to worry so much about whether a potential new job will be a hostile or supportive fit because of their gender.

Now, I’m going to disagree slightly with that last sentence. I do believe men also need to know a lot about the culture of a company and decide whether they want to work there. I do not believe that is only the domain of women and minority job seekers. The difference is that for men, other men know the answer to those questions and share that information. What we, as men, don’t know is how a woman would interpret the culture. It’s, simply, different. As a male, I am not nearly as cognizant of what kinds of small things go on day to day that make it a good, or bad, environment for women. Other women would know that, and having a handful of trusted women to point you in the right direction, would help tremendously.

This also recently came up in a rather lengthy podcast. The DAT file, an eDiscovery podcast, did an episode with Cat Casey and Maribel Rivera talking about diversity in the industry. (It’s a very good discussion, you should go listen to all of it) They made a very similar point about female-focused organizations like Women in eDiscovery, and how it’s those connections that help point out these things and even talked about an example of a woman going to a conference for the first time and steering her towards people who would be safe and fun, as opposed to “sleazy”. Again, are men likely to know who the “sleazy” vendors are who a woman might want to steer clear of? Maybe, but not nearly as much as other women would. It usually has to be pretty egregious before we would know, but that does happen. It’s the not-quite-obvious ones we are less aware of.

That discussion made me think of a conversation I had a few years ago at one of the user conferences we put together when I worked in the software industry. Our conference was in Las Vegas every year, and I had a conversation with a woman who had some reservations about being there, and had a friend who did not come, for the same reason. They didn’t feel like Las Vegas was a safe place for a woman on their own.

Is that true? I don’t know. I suspect that to some extent, it is. Vegas is one big #MeToo moment waiting to happen. Now, our conference was a safe place. I was sure of that, but what about the off-site events? What will it be like just trying to get dinner for a women attending on her own? I do not know what that’s like. Even though, as childhood sexual abuse survivor myself, I have some idea of what it feels like to not feel safe in a given place and time, I’m not living with the reality of life as a professional woman attending a conference. So I don’t know. I reassured her that most of the people who were speaking at that particular conference were ex law enforcement, so if she ever felt at all uncomfortable, she should simply say something to someone and we’d make sure she had a safe escort to her room or wherever, and if anyone associated with the conference made her uncomfortable, they would be dealt with. But I can’t help but wonder how many women simply didn’t come to our conference because, well, Vegas.

And I can’t help but wonder if anyone had even thought of that as an issue during planning? Or if other conferences I’ve attended in Vegas or that occur in Vegas have given it much consideration either.

Which is why women need other women. Men probably aren’t thinking about it as much.

While the study only covered the difference between men and women, I have almost no doubt they would see similar results for minority groups as well. After all, who better to steer you clear of a culture unfriendly to your group than another member of it?

The question is, how do we get to a point where it doesn’t require a member of that group to identify it? Where we all can?

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