6 ways women’s networks work
How women's networks add value
Women's networks are at the receiving end of much flak. Considered by many to be of mixed value, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox says in-house women's networks are "more to placate women than to promote them." Clearly giving a women a forum to exchange ideas and support each other shouldn't be the end goal and undoubtedly there are any number which fail.
Much will depend on the purpose of a network for women, but there are areas where women's networks add significant value.
Here are 6 very specific areas:
1. Easier for Introverts
Many women, even senior ones, are not comfortable in male dominated networking groups, especially where they are centred around sporting events (golf, football etc.) Very often a women's networking group is a good way to get some networking practise within their comfort zone. They can establish contacts with women first and then develop those other relationships later. Let's not forget that women can also support strategically -it's not just about letting off hot air and gossiping. Until businesses make their networking events more inclusive they women's networks can serve a valuable function.
Maria, despite being a successful senior manager, is a reluctant networker, working in construction, a heavily male dominated sector. She has found it easier to create contacts within women's networks before branching out more strategically.
Moving geographically is challenging for anyone but the existence of women's networks in geographic regions can offer great support and local connections to anyone. I would always advise a woman in the process of relocating to find out about the women's network groups in the area they are being transferred to. This is especially useful with international transfers, where connections can be set up in advance.
Costa Women is one such geographic network covering women on the costas and the rest of Spain. Starting up in a new country, speaking a different language, learning (and understanding) different laws and culture is daunting for anyone.
Ali Meehan the Founder says that Costa Women provides "the space to ask and get answered information before they even arrive. I see a large part of my role linking women together from the 58 different nationalities, including Spanish, who can support each other in their journey. Many feel isolated in their new lives and want to connect with other women from outside of their own cultures and life experiences."
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It's very easy for all of us to become inward looking and silo'd in our approach. Cross sector women's networking groups allow women in different companies and functions to share experiences. Kasia Hein Peters, VP Marketing in Sanofi Pasteur, is a founding member of H.B.A Europe the network for women pharmaceutical professionals in the region says:
"I think that women's networks add a lot of value - they help to learn from senior, successful women and allow to make professional and personal connections."
Read: Stereotyping: 4 women, 4 continents, 1 man, 1 tweet where Grant Mason suggests that women's networks will be a driving force of the future.
4. New hires
In-house women's networks can be a great onboarding tool for new hires to become acclimated in the first 90 days.
Tanya said that when she arrived in Dubai, the women's network in her company provided invaluable support, meeting people and dealing with cross cultural differences. "I gained insight into the very specific dos and don'ts, which I wouldn't have had from my male colleagues. In a group of women I heard a number of different perspectives and was able to find my own way of doing things. Thanks to these women, I avoided making many cross cultural faux pas and settled in in record time. They also extended a welcome to me socially, which is much harder for a man to do, especially in the Middle East"
5. Access to senior women
Research from Catalyst suggests that men and women are reluctant to engage in mentoring or networking relationships for fear that it could be misconstrued. It also suggest that the best exchange of information for women is when it comes from other women as they have walked in their shoes. As there is such a paucity of senior women, then the average woman is unlikely to simply run into them. These encounters have to be arranged.
Women's networks can be an excellent way of sharing non-technical skills, in particular leadership and resilience.
6. Knowledge and experience sharing
Some great kernels of wisdom come from meeting the right people and sharing information. This is where women's networks really come into their own, whether staging conferences, workshops, networking events or online activities. Some of it might be casual or specifically organised.
Events such as the JUMP Forum held annually in Brussels, Lyon and Paris brings large groups of women together to share experiences, exchange information and opinions or learn new skills.
Women in Adria's Founder Ivana Matic hosts breakfasts and training sessions for women in Croatia and the surrounding region, for both corporate women and entrepreneurs. "It reduces their feelings of isolation" she told me.
What advantages do you find in women's networks?
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The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
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