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Business networking while female ...

(18 Posts)
MagicalHamSandwich Mon 06-Jul-15 18:30:21

My work (like many firms) is very 'networking' focussed. It's important and we should appaee do lots of it. But there's a problem:

As a woman in an almost exclusively male environment I find this really hard! I do get invited to and do attend all the team dos and group drinks. But I'm sort of on the sidelines as soon as the semi-private stuff and one-on-one drinks come into play.

I've always maintained (and my more attuned male co-workers actually agree) that business networking is basically a type of flirting a lot of the time. The thing is, if I as a single woman do it to male co-workers for this adds a whole bunch of complications.

The guys either feel this might be slightly inappropriate and back away (usually with a friendly excuse) or they're just a tad too eager. Point in case: every time I have gone for a drink with a co-worker and noone else they seem to have considered this a date and were disappointed when I wasn't into where this was headed. When the guys call up a work friend to accompany them to some event it's never me but often one of the junior male colleagues.

The thing is: attending a local event with your boss and then just so happening (yeah, right!) to run into their boss's boss and talking business is how careers are made and those infamous old boys' networks are formed in the first place. I already work twice or three times as hard to be taken seriously in a very male dominated field (company employs some 7% women in my division, most of them support staff). I'm brilliant at what I do but really tired of swimming and quite keen on a ride on that inflatable mattresse that the guys seem to get.

If you're in a similar situation: how do you deal with it? And what can be done in general to address this issue? I'd really like to move something and could do with some inspiration.

MagicalHamSandwich Mon 06-Jul-15 18:31:26

Please excuse my crappy iPhone typing skills! blush

tribpot Mon 06-Jul-15 18:43:53

Yes, you're right, it is a kind of flirting. The art is to gently flatter the boss and create a sense of intimacy - it's actually more like a courtesan than flirting between two people reciprocating, if you see what I mean. Easier done between straight guys (and if you were gay that would help, maybe look into it?! wink) than straight people of the opposite sex.

I think you need to not be put off by people making misassumptions about your drinks invitations (surely it's only some - like do all your married colleagues assume you want to cop off with them?). Maybe try to make clear in advance that this is friendly work drinks (which everyone does) not anything more dodgy. Could any of them become friends? That would make life a lot easier - I've worked in a male-dominated environment for 15 years so nearly all my friends are guys. I go out regularly with them, there's no hint of anything amiss. That said, since I stopped drinking several years ago I nearly always go out for coffee or lunch, both things which are inherently less 'flirty' than drinks. Might worth a thought?

They are probably also slightly wary of giving off the wrong vibes, hence asking another junior colleague to attend events rather than you - again, I think you need to be fairly direct and say 'I would have liked to have gone to that, I'd really appreciate it if you'd take me with you next time'. Very business like so no suggestion that you mean 'because I luuuuurve you' or anything!

Finally, you need to cultivate any women you can find - I'm guessing there are almost none in senior positions in the organisation? If you can find one, maybe ask her advice on this very topic - I want to network and build relationships with people without it being misconstrued.

YonicScrewdriver Mon 06-Jul-15 18:46:18

I am a woman who networks but I don't find this issue. Let me have a think why not and revert.

MagicalHamSandwich Mon 06-Jul-15 19:39:51

Thanks both!

Yes, there's one senior woman at my work. Unfortunately she's so senior that I badly need running into her while out at a local festival with my boss's boss ... If things pan out I might report directly to her in the near future, though.

Is asking/mentioning it directly okay? I reckon it is when it's clearly business but does that include being called up about going for a swim on a Saturday? What about if they're clearly only going because one of the partners hangs out at the same lido but they're masking it as it being their spare time? I'd somehow really feel I was imposing ...

LassUnparalleled Mon 06-Jul-15 19:42:20

I don't find this either, especially the flirting bit. Re specific events no reason why you should not speak up and say you would have liked to attend and it would have been useful because....

On one to ones I dont think I would do that with a work colleague of either sex unless there was an issue I particularly wanted to discuss outside work or I also know them socially anyway- ie there are a couple who were friends before we worked together.

tribpot Mon 06-Jul-15 19:43:14

Stalking the bosses in social settings sounds very suffocating to me - I'd be surprised if that played well with the higher ups. But is there some reason you can't just to take yourself to the lido, or some other location where the partners are known to be? It sounds like taking up golf might become essential!

YonicScrewdriver Mon 06-Jul-15 19:48:45

I don't think I do much one to one networking. I tend to meet people individually for lunch or coffee. Evening things tend to be "events" or general drinks for all.

LassUnparalleled Mon 06-Jul-15 19:52:06

I'm a senior female employer I'd be very taken aback if you suggested we do something on a Saturday unless it was something unique and we had already discussed a common interest.

For example if you pointed out to me say there was a live streamed cinema performance of the Bolshoi ballet, or something fabulous from the NT had I noticed? One of our very junior assistants suggested an outing to Scottish Ballet to me and another senior female boss and we all went.

Re the local festival -can you build on shared interests there?

YonicScrewdriver Mon 06-Jul-15 19:54:00

OMG, I can't see how schmoozing whilst everyone is in a swimming costume at the weekend can be good! Are you sure they are doing that and don't just like going for a swim somewhere nice?

MagicalHamSandwich Mon 06-Jul-15 19:56:41

I don't think they're stalking each other exactly. Or more like: the really senior ones have been stalked by the kind of senior ones for so long that they now actually consider them friends.

Golf is not really a thing in this circle thank goodness. Going to the sauna is, though. I'm not quite sure if I'm ambitious enough to consider exposure to naked upper management an acceptable price to pay for success ... confused

The flirting thing I still think is kind of true, though: it's all about subtle flattery and creating a sense of intimacy on the end, isn't it? They obviously don't tell each other their eyes are a pretty shade of blue (would pay money for that, though). The peacocking around sporting achievements etc. really reminds me of stags in season at times, though ...

MagicalHamSandwich Mon 06-Jul-15 19:59:50

And, yes, I'm quite sure. My boss went with my junior. They ran into partner and all went for a drink.

My junior is now on the fast track. (To be fair: so am I, I've just had to schmooze a lot more clients and put in a lot more overtime ...)

LassUnparalleled Mon 06-Jul-15 20:03:19

The flirting thing I still think is kind of true, though: it's all about subtle flattery and creating a sense of intimacy on the end, isn't it?

No. It isn't. I've seen someone try that and it was embarrassing for all concerned. And it didn't work.

MagicalHamSandwich Mon 06-Jul-15 20:11:39

I suspect that this may be a question of how one defines 'flirting'. To me it's something I do with clients all the time and I'm actually quite good at it. Nothing even remotely romantic or sexual about it - it's about creating a good 'vibe' with a person and consists mainly of showing an interest in them, subtly advertising yourself as a (business rather than romantic) partner and making sure they walk away feeling better about both themselves and you ...

RB68 Mon 06-Jul-15 20:33:39

Is there any chance of a conversation with senior woman that asks her to mentor you in some way - so not a boss relationship etc. It can be flattering to be asked although you need to be careful not to come across as competition (an issue in some industries). Or alternatively finding a similar industry where there is a parallel in terms of the types and find a senior member of staff there - through Linked In networks etc. In fact there might even be charities that do this kind of linking up haven't looked for ages.

It does sound to me like you need a coach of some sort though - bounce ideas and try different things, even intro to their networks etc

FloraFox Mon 06-Jul-15 21:02:27

OP are you in the UK? I think a lot of these workplace cultures are highly specific to the industry and location. I can't think of any swimming or sauna networking activities but I can imagine some German or Scandinavian companies might do this.

On the more general point, this is one of the things that make it hard for women to get ahead in male dominated industries and that probably the guys don't recognise that it's happening or how it impacts their careers.

EBearhug Mon 06-Jul-15 23:18:02

I know one of the senior men at work will take people to lunch or breakfast as one-to-ones, but never dinner, because it could be misinterpreted, and if you aren't doing dinner with one sex, you can't do it with the other.

I agree the swimming/sauna stuff doesn't sound very British, but that's not really the point - it's an out of work social occasion, and it could as easily be karting or the races or a private gallery viewing or whatever.

I've done some networking through LinkedIn - just got involved with a couple of events that I saw notified there.

If you're going to ask the senior woman to mentor you, it can help to put some focus on it - "I'd really like some help with..." so you're only asking for a specific thing, rather than asking her to commit to something with no defined terms. It may well lead to more, once you've established a relationship, but you're starting by only asking for a bit of her time.

Also, I think you do need to be careful with the flirting thing. I understand how it is like flirting, but you need to be careful it doesn't come over as actual flirting, as that could work against you.

BlameItOnTheBogey Tue 07-Jul-15 00:18:09

I know what you are getting at with the 'its like flirting' comment. You do have to try and make a person like you and feel a connection with you. It's just a different type of connection to a dating one.

Networking is key to my job. I prefer breakfast or lunch to drinks which always feel awkward. And I always try and leverage the relationships I have to make introductions to the people I want to get to. It seems to work so much better if someone can even connect me with an introductory email.

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