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?