Business Networking – another male domaine

Last week, I popped in to a local business network event to find thirteen men and one woman, which from my experience is not an unusual gender split at such groups; I do, however, find it quite disappointing. The room resonated with maleness.

Of course this was not the first time I had noticed this gender imbalance, but decided to explore it a little deeper, for surely, it cannot be that only men find networking to be a real business benefit. After a brief search, I found a survey conducted by Trowers and Hamlins, an international law firm, laying out some evidence to this networking anomaly.

The article is clear about the statistics showing that women want to network as much as men, but don’t do it. What are the barriers that limit their equal presence and participation?

The survey findings suggest that whilst women want to attend they make choices not to. Is this a simple case of “I have other priorities”, or “my work patterns prevent me from attending”. I think not. Most networking events are open to all and anyone who goes along has an opportunity to get involved. I do not believe that there is direct discrimination preventing women from attending, but what goes on there does reflect traditional ‘male’ behaviours and therefore is more attractive to men.

Networking is a challenge – going into a room not knowing anyone, approaching people, introducing oneself and being able to comfortably talk about “you and your business” and listen to others talking about “them and theirs”. Certainly this is not for everyone.

I run a monthly group, which during 2013 had over 120 attendees. Reviewing the attendance figures I see that 30 were women (25%), which compares well to other local groups. I asked some of them whether they view networking as a necessary business function. Nearly all agreed that they attend groups because they think they ought to, rather than want to, but acknowledge that they are actually better suited to men. One suggested that “the more testosterone fuelled ‘hard sell’ groups where everyone has a tag-line about their business, often with some kind of dubious double entendre, are particularly difficult”.

In conclusion, if traditional networking spaces are better suited to men, it becomes the responsibility of those running groups (me included) and other attendees to be aware of this phenomenon, to work to turn them into more inclusive spaces.

Women will not be the only beneficiaries. The groups will improve too. So, what will you do next time you go networking?

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About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
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10 Responses to Business Networking – another male domaine

  1. suecohen says:

    I find this ratio is common and I’m not bothered by it personally, although I know other women who find it more of a challenge. The nature of my work has meant that I’m used to presenting in one form or another to groups and I have spent time developing my skills and confidence in this type of environment. I’ve met good and poor networkers, male and female, although many men and women believe women are better networkers. There are few women-only events I’d go back to.

  2. This is a surprise to me as the few business networking events I’ve been to have been much more even in numbers of men and women than the article suggests. While I’ve not literally counted, my instinctive response would be to say they were 50/50 but if there were fewer women then it wouldn’t be lower than 40/60. When I next go to one I’ll do a count!

  3. Generally speaking I think there is an even footing in terms of numbers between men and women but I have heard stories of women going to events and being the only female there but as I say I haven’t experienced it personally. Interesting piece.

    • equalityedge says:

      I have just returned from an event 1:5 was the ratio – this seems to be the norm in the London groups I know of.

      • Wow. Thats a bit of an eye opener. I suppose there should be more encouragement from all to get more women involved because the benefits, regardless of gender, can be great. Thanks.

      • Contrast this with the regular gender imbalance in restaurants which at least in London SW11 seems to be often up to 70:30 women to men, with many all female tables.

        I suppose it may be the genders choosing the entertainments that suit them. If I/we had visited steak houses or pubs more the balance could well have been different.

  4. Andy Coleman says:

    Good article Michael. As you know, I do a lot of networking in North London in various local groups and this imbalance is very common. There are some groups where it’s a lot worse than others but I’ve not been to any group where there is regularly a 50-50 split. It’s very common to see a 75-25 mix (men to women). But I do know of one group which is open to all which is completely the opposite, it regularly attracts 20-25 people and I’ve been the only male there. It’s run (very well) by 3 women – could that make a difference? After all most groups are run by men.

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