Women and Networking

I’ve been to a networking event this morning, and on one level it was great. Well organised, good food (yucky coffee but you can’t have everything) yet it struck me that it was a very male way of doing business.

Now, if you’ve followed my posts for a while you’ll have gathered that I’m no shy and retiring flower. I’m pretty confident most of the time, a genuine extravert who loves meeting new people. I’ve run groups for young male offenders and worked within prisons and with groups of elected counsellors; I’m generally OK with groups of men and and I can take care of myself. Cripes, I’ve even been mugged and fought back (not recommended but I couldn’t help myself)

And yet as I walked into this networking event, alone, I had to do a sharp intake of breath. I was faced with a sea of men in suits all in animated discussion and it felt a tiny bit threatening. Eventually my eyes picked out that there were a few women there, maybe 10%? I girded my loins, walked up to a group and introduced myself.

And it was fine and they were a really nice group of blokes, but it was all so very male-oriented. The banter was quite competitive, there was some friendly joshing going on but it was very much on the level of stags showing off. And that’s OK; I grew up with two brothers, lots of male cousins and I can stand my ground. But actually, I don’t really like it and I don’t think I’m being totally true to myself. (Which may well have been true of some of the chaps but most looked very comfortable).

I contrast that with a women’s network I go to where the atmosphere is supportive and encouraging, where we feel able to talk about when things aren’t going so well, as well as when they are, and where the atmosphere is nowhere near as competitive.

There is nothing wrong with either approach. And I know that some men find this kind of event daunting and some women love them and thrive on it. But by and large these are not events where women feel at ease. And you can draw a parallel with many work places where one gender is not well represented. Once you get to a certain level the group that’s not represented is women…

Does anyone go to a networking arena which feels truly gender neutral? One which has been designed to make both men and women feel comfortable and able to give of their best? If so, please tell me about it and what makes it different.

Photo Credit: Svilen001

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Posted on April 5th, 2011 by

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