What if we designed networking for women?


A mere two hundred years ago, our world was much smaller. We generally stayed in one spot for life and maxed out at about 150 social connections. Life may have been hard, but it was also simple.

The Industrial Revolution created the need for wider collaboration and collaboration requires trust. Manufacturers had to trust shipping captains, investors had to trust business owners, and business partners had to trust each other. How do you build trust IRL? You join clubs and institutions and abide by a set of social rules regarding conduct and clothing.

Welcome to the early days of networking. During the 1900s, the customs of connecting evolved to become more exclusive sophisticated. Golf courses, conferences, memberships and after-work drinks became a vital part of forming trusted relationships to make big business possible.

Oh, and all of it was conducted by men.

Closing Connecting the gender leadership gap

These days, women make up half the workforce but we tend to stay stuck on the lower rungs. Why? Well, all the Dicks in the boardroom can probably explain. No, we’re not talking about poor behaviour, we’re talking about men names Richard, Rick and Dick. They outnumber women and other underrepresented groups by a landslide.
The reason there are so many Dicks? Because 80% of board roles are filled via networking. It’s perhaps no coincidence that a very similar number – 83% – describes the number of Powrsuit members who rate their professional network as average to poor. 

Think your work should speak for itself? You’re missing the point. Networking was a solution to building trust between strangers. You don’t network to show off, you do it to prove you’re a sane, capable individual who other people will enjoy working with. Mr Manufacturer wasn’t questioning whether Mr Ship’s Captain could drive a boat, he was checking whether he’d scarper off with his stuff.

If we want more women in positions of power and influence (which, by the way, we really do), there’s only one way to do it: we need to connect our way up.

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Networking designed for women

Here’s something no one ever mentions when they tell women to get out and ‘press the flesh’: the way we network doesn’t work for us. We carry the bulk of the household load, we take on extra caregiving responsibilities, we pick up a majority of the non-promotable office work.

Quite frankly, Dick, we’re too busy to pop out for a beer.

Thankfully, over generations of exclusion from formal institutions, we have developed an incredible superpower. Women are excellent at making connections very quickly. We’ve honed that ability so much that we’ve removed the need for long lunches and late nights (even if we still love them). Anyone who’s been in a women’s bathroom at 1 am knows what we mean. It takes only seconds for a group of strangers to share tampons and pledge life-long friendships.

Micro-networking: making it easy for women to connect

Organisations know the value of market intelligence; gathering data to understand customers, trends and behaviours. This is what enables a company to stay competitive. Networking is an obvious way to collect this information, so how do we create opportunities to do it? We build networking into work.

And in 2024, we have a world of new networking possibilities. The virtual world.

Almost a billion people have sweated over their LinkedIn profiles (or outsourced to Chat GPT). A decent portion of those people have then seen posts that equate B2B sales with marriage proposals and questioned why we bothered. But we digress. Women should be interacting on Linkedin (yes, even you). We should be sharing knowledge, events and insights to build trust and reach people outside our immediate organisation. Time block 15 minutes a few times a week and write a post or comment that adds value to the world. It’s that simple and incredibly effective.

And, instead of telling women to overcome the barriers to networking, we should build it into professional development. We talk about playing to our strengths; micro-networking plays to women’s ability to quickly form connections.

That’s why at Powrsuit, we build 15-minute networking blocks into our live events. Participants go into breakout rooms with a handful of others to get hands-on with the information. It’s short, stress-free, and it works. We’ve had tears, triumphs, and young leaders meeting senior execs that they’d never walk up to at an event. Now, that’s a valuable connection.

Networking was designed to help men build trust while their wives looked after the household. That world is long gone for all but NFL kickers (and women who choose that lifestyle). Nowadays, we have the tools to design networking opportunities that work for all of us.

Let’s start using them.

30 second action

Ask a colleague you like out for a quick coffee, walk or virtual meeting.

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