Research shows that one of the biggest barriers that women have in reaching more senior levels within their organizations is access to experiences that will develop their skills and reputation at that level. Gaining that access often comes down to whether or not you’ve been strategic in building your network. Here’s how to have a strong network and good mentors—so you can get promoted, receive higher pay and have greater career satisfaction.
Gender Differences in Connecting
There are recognized differences between how women and men tend to create connections. Men often have strategic goals such as getting a promotion, getting access to a new customer, or getting a seat on a Board of Directors, and they seek out resourceful contacts that can help them achieve these specific goals. They are comfortable with “weaker ties”—connections who they do not know intimately but who they know well enough to make an “ask.” Women tend to create connections with people they like emotionally and many of these ties are not relevant to achieving a strategic goal. They are also less comfortable making specific asks, and don’t work as hard to maintain their networks.
Strategies for Building Effective Strategic Connections
Creating strategic connections takes effort. Do any of these common themes resonate with you? “I don’t have time,” “I’m an introvert and I’m uncomfortable meeting new people,” “I already have enough friends,” “I don’t have anything to offer.”
A goal is a “dream with a deadline.” Now is the time to set a specific goal that you would like to achieve within the next six to twelve months. With such a goal, you will begin to look for people with specific information, skill sets, connections, ideas or assignments to help you achieve your goal. This is the planning that enables the identification of experiences you need in order to keep progressing in your career. It’s much easier to find connections when you are looking for specific attributes rather than just adding to the number of non-strategic connections in your social media channels.
Next step is to identify the people who can help you get there. Identify and connect to brokers—those individuals who have are natural connectors with large networks who you can tap into for new introductions. Take advantage of programs, practices and communities that allow access to others with shared interests. Use various social media channels to help identify people you already know and who can connect you to others in their networks.
Internal and External Connection Building
Look both inside and outside your organization to build strategic connections. View new assignments as ways to add to your knowledge and your networks. Start to develop relationships with people in other departments that you don’t naturally connect with regularly by inviting someone for coffee or to participate in a meeting with you. One common refrain of effective networkers is “never eat alone.” Take on leadership positions through hobbies or external organizations of interest. Become active within strategically targeted trade associations. Join a non-profit board or local organization that includes people in positions you’re interested in learning more about. In addition to building your connections, you’re building your brand and external profile, which will increase the probability of people reaching out to connect to you.
Now that you’ve started to make those new connections, it’s time to nurture those relationships as part of your daily work routine. Making connections is not an “outside of work” activity if it’s being used to enhance your career objectives, which will also enhance your effectiveness in your current role.
New contacts need to see or hear your name in at least three modes of communication (phone, email, in person) before substantive recognition. You can develop the relationship with at least one phone call or email monthly. Transforming a contact into a deeper connection needs at least two face-to-face meetings out of the office and maintaining a secondary relationship or “weak tie” requires two to three pings a year.
What is Your Connection Style?
The most important thing you can do is find ways of connecting with others that fits your style and comfort level. As an introvert, I tend to enjoy more one-to-one meetings over coffee rather than attending large events. And when I do attend the large events, I review the attendee list to seek out specific people I’d like to meet before I arrive or I set a personal goal of meeting at least three new people before I leave. Other connections I have invite people to a dinner and then have each person invite one other person they’d like to introduce to the group. Or invite someone to participate in a hobby or go for a walk. Get creative so that it’s something that becomes a normal part of your routine.
Most importantly, show genuine interest and learn how to retain the connections over long periods of time. Good luck connecting!