How to deal with gender bias in networking

by | Jun 2, 2020

Have you noticed gender bias in networking?

 

Gender bias in networking has long existed, but with these three tips you can put an end to it and instead create a more inclusive space.

 

There has always been gender bias in networking. Bosses meet "the guys" for a beer in the pub after work to discuss a hot business topic. They might get together at lunchtime for a bike ride or a jog, or join golf outings at weekends. They meet clients or vendors at sporting events to build external relationships. Team building exercises, leadership training and off sites are frequently arranged in environments where women may feel uncomfortable or excluded such as skiing or sailing trips.  During these informal interactions, male team members build-up strong relationships with each other and with any external partners, and share critical tips and information.

This forms the cement of their connection and is the start of building the foundation of a successful future career. It gives those involved the inside track on navigating office politics and even advance warning of changes in the pipeline. In a time when some organisations are discouraging women's networks it's even more important that all networks, even informal ones are inclusive.

gender bias in networking

There are a number of reasons for this and it is not usually about ill-will. Your boss may simply have more in common with the men and feel more comfortable in their company. This is known as affinity bias, or more simply, it means we gravitate to people like ourselves. In the post #MeToo era, he may be wary of being seen to spend time with his female reports or colleagues, worried that gossip could damage his reputation.

If you feel unsure where you stand, read our article with 8 recommendations for men mentoring women.

Women frequently say they are not invited to join these groups. There is an assumption that women won't want to join. Some don't want to go anyway - jogging at lunch time isn't for everyone. Or many lack the skills to join in, not to mention the equipment. They are also more likely than their male colleagues to factor in domestic commitments. These men are enjoying a post-work drink or dinner because someone else is looking after their kids. Women also frequently don't want to take the initiative because they fear their intentions will be misconstrued.

Women, learn how to take the initiative and step up with this session to Build Your Confidence.

Being included matters. Workplace relationships are invaluable. So if any group is routinely excluded from the social elements of a workplace, they are losing out. A whole raft of news updates, perspectives, opinions and sub-text can emerge over a glass of wine, a bowl of spag bol, or training for a 5Km fun run.

If the initiative to meet after work comes from a manager, that is even more significant. Any manager's role is to be responsible for ensuring that everyone on the team has the opportunity to network.

But many women are unsure how to approach this, especially post #MeToo.

How to handle a manager who only networks with men

1. Raise the issue

It could be that he hasn't even noticed that he only networks with men. Explain to him the reason why it's important and check that he understands. He may think that the women don't want to be there. This may be the case.

2. Offer alternatives

Check in with the women on the team and find out what works for them. Suggest that men and women meet for lunch, coffee or breakfast. If you want to do a physical activity, suggest what Dorothy Dalton calls "net-walking". Here everyone gets fresh air and exercise, without the need for speed, winning and showering afterwards. Even then make sure there are options for activities for anyone who is not physically able.

gender bias in networking

3. Make the event open for men and women

What you want to avoid is making this a "women" only event, which in the eyes of the team and organisation becomes less important and just a sop to the "girls" who feel left out. There is a deep bias that men exchange information and women gossip.

All activities should be set up to be as diverse and inclusive as possible.

 

Turn your workplace into a more inclusive space by creating a bias-conscious culture. Find out more about our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops HERE.

If you feel passionate about gender balance and topical issues impacting women in the workplace 3Plus would be delighted to publish your work. Don't wait - send it in

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