Have you ever wondered why women only networks exist? Have you ever wondered about the value they bring to female business owners and women entrepreneurs? Here are my 14 reasons why women only networks matter.
As someone who networks a lot, I am a part of a lot of different networking groups, some of which are female only. I hear a lot of backlash about them from men and from women. So I thought I’d delve into the topic and give you my take with 14 reasons why women only networks matter.
Starting on My Own Networking Journey
I’ll be very straight with you. When I first started investigating networking groups in 2018, I really was perplexed by the notion of female only groups. In my head, the narrative was that business is gender neutral and why would I only want to talk to women? That said, I’ve never been one to let other people make up my mind for me, so I said I’ve give it a go and see what came of it.
Although I had reservations, I always go into anything with an open mindset and ready to learn. So in 2018 I joined Network Ireland, Women in Business Network, Enterprising Women’s Network and I also subscribe to some female online networks. And I am still a member of these groups, as they bring tangible and intangible value to me.
What I Observed & Learned Over Time
I think with anything, your realisations don’t come all at once. They come over time and when you look at things in retrospect. So here are my observations, for what they are worth.
I was astounded, and I mean, really flabbergasted at the lack of confidence in women. And there was no rhyme nor reason for this. I looked at these women and saw awesomeness, courage, perseverance, tenacity, but also that lack of awareness. Different backgrounds, different careers, different journeys. But all had the lack of confidence in common and a feeling of imposter syndrome, which we’ll examine in another blog soon.
There is a train of thought out there that women don’t progress as far or as quickly due to their lack of access to informal and formal networks, be they organisational or industry led networks. While there are plenty of women golfers out there, they aren’t as numbersome as men on the golf course. In early morning networks, it’s very difficult to find women out there, particularly where there are young families and kids in the mix.
And yet, there are so many government support initiatives for funding and training for women as there is a recognition that they have so much to offer in the workplace. There isn’t equality yet or indeed, for many, there is no balance in income, rearing children, domestic chores. I’m a firm believer that women who grow, learn, collaborate, expand, perform & gain confidence will have so much more to offer society. And a huge part of gaining this confidence and growing both personally and professionally comes down to networking.
‘We cannot wait for the world to be equal to be seen’, according to Michelle Obama.
So here are a few of the reasons I feel that women only networks matter and are so pivotal to our economy’s future:
Women Only Networks tend to run at times that don’t impact or interfere with school runs & pick ups. This could be a 10am start, a lunch time meet up or indeed an evening schedule of connecting, learning and support. If a working Mum is trying to juggle work and kids, then these times afford her the time and space to expand her horizons.
First and foremost – it’s an honest space. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that other networks or gender neutral networks aren’t honest, but they are different. Women only networks support and allow you to ‘just be’. No judgement. Just support. For any women out there, that are changing career by virtue of redundancy or simply wanting a career change, there is going to be a time of identity crisis. For women who are coming back from maternity leave, extended parental or care-givers leave, this can be a hard time.
Women have an inclination to work with others, to help and support each other, more so than men. They tend to be less competitive, but will support and enhance key relationships, all the while upping their own visibility. It is said that people buy from people. It’s so true and women who know the struggle of other women in business are even more likely to be on the look out for you and to help promote your business and your brand.
Double bind. Women need to learn to speak up. It’s like a need to be given permission to be confident. And with confidence, comes the ability to accept praise. Women need to learn to accept compliments and own them. They also need to learn how to build themselves up and trust in themselves. Stretching yourself. Testing yourself. You’ll discover your inner brave.
5. Presentation Skills
So many women who start businesses have little or no experience in presenting, so the idea of standing up to do a 60-second pitch is simply terrifying or presenting their company in a 10 or 20 minute presentation can feel very overwhelming and stressful. The women only networks give these women a safe and supportive space to speak and to fine tune their pitches. It’s a safe space to ask for input, feedback, constructive criticism and guidance.
A lot of women in business tend to be solo entrepreneurs or solopreneurs as they are now classed. The business is founded on a core skill set, but the business of running a business in all its facets is new…from networking to marketing, legal to finance…it’s daunting. The network becomes the tribe, the support network. They become your trusted advisors and your allies. Women tend to develop stickier relationships with each other than men do. These relationships grow stronger, more interwoven and mutual over time.
It’s not spoken about enough, in my opinion, but working on your own can be extremely lonely. Having a group of go to, like-minded people to turn to is a Godsend. Being connected is such a basic human need. In this digital age, being connected can be as simple as a coffee morning or being a part of a whatsapp group. What’s important is that you are a part of something and have a like minded group of people surrounding you.
Successful female networkers demonstrate intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ). They build trust by showing competence and warmth. They work on an evidence based model, i.e. they show what they are knowledgeable, skillful and accomplished. Humour, listening skills, caring, positivity, collaboration, high energy and generally showing they care mean that women help spur on creative thinking with their fellow networkers and colleagues.
This is something that occured to me when listening to a podcast recently. I used to work with large companies and then when I started networking, I suddenly didn’t have this corporate speak to rely on. I didn’t have a brand to fall back on. I had to learn to find my own voice, my own words, to trust my worth. Again, female only networks offer this safe space to help ‘find yourself’.
Learning how to network. Learning how to help others. Learning how to be helped. Learning how to start a conversation. Learning how to do a 1-2-1. You’ve got to expose yourself to new communities that can help you access new information, spark innovation and pursue advancement
It’s hard to describe the level of support that is given. There is such a will from the other ladies in the groups to see you success. It’s inspiring. It’s motivating. It’s going to help drive you to success. And let’s face it, we all have those days when we don’t want to show up, when something has happened and we’d rather go back under the duvet. But let me tell you, a simply coffee with a trusted fellow business person will help motivate you, give you perspective or just give you a place to vent, but it will also give you the spark to move forward.
12. Role Models
As in everything in life, what you don’t see, isn’t on your radar. Can I suggest that you watch this video. If she can’t see it, she can’t be it. Powerful stuff. It talks about sport, but it could be easily talking about any realm of society and business. Unconscious bias is one of the many cultural and systemic hurdles that women faces when trying to rise in leadership or develop their business. Forming deep connections with other women who have ‘been there, done that’ and learning from them about how to ask for what you want, to ask for your worth, to ask for that promotion, to ask for business – it’s easier when you know you have someone in your corner. These women tend to act as mentors for other women.
The best-networked women tend to connect with people in a wide variety of functions, across organisations, spanning geographies and if it’s within an organisation, they span business units. Women who are new to networking often find this inauthentic, however as confidence grows, they’ll realise, it’s all part and parcel of progressing and being strategic. It’s a part of the growth process. Many of us are also coming from a certain discipline or type of business, but haven’t had too much exposure to people working in different industries, so by networking you get to meet women from many different back grounds and experiences. You’ll get different perspectives from a group of objective and supportive women.
If you’ve never chaired a group or been on a committee, being a part of a network can be a great way to gain this experience and expand your horizons in a safe, volunteer role.
I’m sure I’ve missed other reasons and I’d love to add them to my 14 reasons women only networks matter, but these are a few of my own experiences and observations. I’ve heard women, who become part of these networks and then grow their confidence, comment on how they feel ready to ‘graduate’ to gender neutral networking. That’s not to say that this is the way for all women, but it’s more prolific than people realise.
But in essence, women only networks can help you find out how remarkable you are.
If you have other ideas and suggestions, I’d love to hear them. You can reach out to me at email@example.com. And do connect in with me on Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram. Let’s keep the #networking conversation going!
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