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A Better Way to Network for Women?

“Networking is my idea of hell.”

These are the exact words spoken by a woman attendee at a recent event where I gave a talk about the importance of networking.

Her sentiments are echoed by many professional women who have experienced a traditional networking approach, which is:

a) based on entering a crowded room full of strangers and making small talk

b) scheduled on evenings and weekends, making it impossible to fit in around family commitments and

c) centred on male-oriented activities like rugby and golf

No wonder so many women shudder when they’re told they need to “network” in order to advance their careers. What’s more alarming is that this approach doesn’t even work for us. A recent HBR article, Why Networking More is Bad Advice For Women,” dissects several research studies which prove that standard approaches to getting ahead fail women – and can even backfire. The article’s author, Sarah Green Carmichael, concludes: “To me, the upshot of all of this research is increasingly clear: we need to stop telling women to follow a male playbook.”

What if women rewrote the playbook?

Clearly, there has to be a better way. But what does “good” networking look like? How can we make it more palatable to – and productive for – professional women. Here are five strategies that have worked for me:

1. Start with giving

The key to successful networking for women is adapting a completely different mindset: one that is based on giving vs. getting.   The famous law of reciprocity! A Fast Company article, “A Networking Paradigm Shift: Focus on Giving Not Taking,” explains it quite well: Networking from a giving rather than a getting perspective is “a much more empowered way to think about your career: It forces you to realize that you are not a needy person who has to rely on others to succeed, and focuses on the many things you have to offer the world.”

2. Join a women’s networking group

By design, many women-centric networking groups provide a supportive environment and operate according to the “give vs. get” philosophy. At Cisco, I’m the global and EMEAR co-lead for Connected Women, a global community at Cisco formed by volunteers to attract, develop, retain, and celebrate talented women as part of a competitive and diverse workforce.  It isn’t an “HR initiative” – it’s run by women who all have a day job and who give up their time to proactively share experiences and to help and support other women.

Another terrific women’s networking resource is WeAreTheCity, a website and organisation that promotes female-related networks, events, and training in the UK. In a recent BBC Radio 4 interview, WeAreTheCity’s Founder Vanessa Vallely offered this advice:   “Don’t put too much emphasis on the word networking. It’s the art of having a conversation with someone and being inquisitive and getting to know them.”

3. Embrace digital networking

Many women who don’t enjoy traditional in-person networking are absolutely daunted by digital networking. But this need not be the case – especially if you take a “what can I give/what can I learn” stance.

Using social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook is a brilliant way to surround yourself with supportive, varied, and incredibly knowledgeable people –not just people who can “deliver.” Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, has just published a great article “Who’s afraid of Digital Networking? Women?”. She advises us “what works in-person also works online.  So when you approach the social world, put aside your fears and misconceptions and remember that there’s a person behind every worthwhile social media account”.

In fact, a diverse network may be critical to generating innovative ideas, according to a new recent study on Twitter conducted by MIT’s Sloan School of Management.   Another study, by Facebook’s data team, shows that it’s easier than ever to find and make connections with interesting people – regardless of where in the world they’re located.

The takeaway? People are on social networking platforms because they want to share. There’s very little small talk. And, because you can do it wherever, whenever, it may be a better fit for working mothers.

4. Stay in touch

Everyone has a pre-existing network of colleagues, former classmates, and industry acquaintances. But, like any relationship, your network needs attention in order to thrive. So stay in touch with people – through both physical and virtual means – on a regular basis, not just when you need something.

Connect with people on LinkedIn to see what they’re up to. Have drinks with people you used to work with. Go to your university reunions – or give talks at alumni events. Retain the mind-set of having conversations instead of extracting favours. And remember – treat people well, up and down the food chain. After all, your former employee could be your next boss.

5. Perform random acts of kindness

To be successful at “give-driven” networking, you have to actually care about other people’s success instead of just your own – and you have to show it. Strengthen your network through small, day-to-day acts: help head-hunters when they call, recommend people on LinkedIn, tweet about people’s books or blog posts, send a congratulatory note to someone who received a promotion or started a new job.

This process does not have to be overly time consuming. Keep your finger on your network’s pulse with a service like Newsle (now part of LinkedIn) – it scans your contacts and notifies you when someone you know is “in the news.” Random acts of kindness have a boomerang effect – the goodwill you extend will eventually come back to you.

Where to from here?

Personally, I’ve always placed huge value on networking and have made the effort, even when sometimes I didn’t feel like doing so. The kind of ‘old-style’ networking that is driven by uncomfortable, inconvenient, needs-based transactions quite frankly is my idea of hell too. So let’s invent a new way of networking that doesn’t fill us with dread, based on supportive, dynamic, relationship-building interactions. Sounds much more like my cup of tea. What do you think?

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Carpe Diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of CEWN: Shubhra Sinha



Anuja SinghGuest Blog and Interview by Anuja Singh 

Welcome to the September edition of our monthly CEWN segment about role models. We all make resolutions and set goals to improve ourselves– but somewhere along the way, life interrupts our plans, we find ourselves juggling different priorities and invariably things get dropped. What you will find in this segment are experiences of some ordinary people who remained focused and went on to achieve extraordinary results. Everyone featured in this series has faced challenges and opportunities that the rest of us can identify with. Let’s draw inspiration from the choices they made and aspire to the outcomes they created.

ShubraShubhra Sinha

Find out more about Shubhra.

Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CEWN): You have had a successful career spanning two different continents – what impact did your formative years have on you? Read More »

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#CiscoChat Seize the Moment and Make your Mark at Grace Hopper

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The Grace Hopper Celebration Conference is upon us once in two weeks in Houston, Texas  and Cisco is proud to be a Diamond Sponsor recognized as a leader in diversity and highlights our continuous commitment to increasing the impact of women in technology.

For the last 13 years, GHC has strived to bring together women technologists to help increase visibility of the valuable contributions of women in computing. This year the conference is expected to have grown to 11,000 attendees from last year’s 7,800 attendees. Inspired by the  legacy of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women In Computing Conference was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994. The idea behind the conference was to catapult the research and career interests of women to the forefront and now it has become one of the world’s largest gatherings for women in computing.

Women and computers

Cisco’s goal of participating Read More »

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Are the skills we have today be relevant tomorrow?


Woman in the workplaceAre we Disrupting Ourselves out of jobs? This blog is to provoke dialogue Read More »

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Are you a Talent Magnet or a Micromanager?

I care passionately about good leadership and adore discovering new books or hearing leaders speak.   I have recently discovered and met Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers, a book on leadership I highly recommend. Liz’s book is based on research of 150 leaders across Europe , Middle East and Asia and studies how some leaders can get twice as much productivity from their teams as other leaders. In her book Liz shares with you a secret and that is that good leadership starts with the intelligence of your team. At its highest level good leaders are genius makers, they make everyone smart and in doing so gain twice as much productivity as others. Twice as much productivity! Let’s think about that for a second. Do you have access to all of the intelligence in your team? Do you amplify the intelligence? Is your team getting smarter?

Further research from Liz shows that on average, managers utilize just 66% of their people’s capability. In other words 34% of their team’s capability is wasted! What’s even worse, people who are underutilised describe their experience and frustrating and exhausting.   The most talented team members quit and the less confident “quit and stay” leaving you with a morale problem that infects the culture.

Liz Wiseman describes the managers that double the productivity of their team, as “Multipliers”. Multipliers are hard-edged leaders who ask you to do the really hard things and then step back and let you struggle a bit. They are demanding and intolerant of mediocrity. Multipliers provide an intense environment because they challenge, use the intelligence of the whole team and give you permission to think and fail – after all, who wants a job they are qualified for but with nothing to learn? For these reasons people love working for a Multiplier, they are a talent magnet.

The opposite type of leader is described as the “Diminisher”. As micro managers they drain the intelligence of their team and are only focussed on their own ideas and capability. Diminishers believe that as the leader, they have all of the answers and consequently shut down the intelligence of their team and do not instil accountability.

What type of manager are you? A Multiplier or a Diminisher?

Recommendation: think about your team members, is there any evidence the team is getting smarter? Are they growing in their capacity, what role have you had to play? Think about how you could become more of a Multiplier.  If you’re a Multiplier, share your best practice with your peers! If you report to a Diminisher, call them out on their behaviour and let them know you are underutilised and want to increase your capability.

“Leaders do not create followers, they create more leaders”

Nelson Mandela.              micro-manager