You may be thinking, “oh, goodness… not another what it’s like to be a woman in tech piece.” Maybe you’re tired of hearing about women in tech from women in tech or you, like me, believe there are plenty of other topics that could benefit from the expertise of women in tech, like what we spend our days doing, how we specifically contribute to the growth of our companies and our industry, etc. I mean… of course more women should be included in panels, interviews, and publications where we focus on a topic other than simply having a job and an identity that is not most dominantly represented in our industry.
And yet… there are challenges with being a woman in a male-dominated industry that still require some attention. Networking, for one. Bonding and informal networking that leads to opportunity still happens over pints after work, and while that’s not an uncomfortable situation for me within my own network, it’s not comfortable for everyone. There are still men who won’t take a lunch with a woman for fear of accusations, but those lunches are also where business is done and opportunities are created. And on the flip side, the reason those beers after work might be uncomfortable and there are accusations that come out of lunch is because it still happens that people cross the line in these settings (and more).
To be clear, harassment can happen at any stage in a relationship. It’s not just scary strangers, and it’s not just the first lunch meeting. What I’m talking about here, though, is challenges that arise within traditional networking constructs in particular. Drinks and lunches are just some of the ways we build and deepen our networks in person, and in many ways, networking is still a man’s world. Network structures that advance careers, in terms of both promotions and compensation, favour weak ties and broad network ranges, which are characteristics more common in men’s network’s than in women’s.
Although it’s not the stated purpose, as the largest professional networking platform out there, LinkedIn enables exactly the sorts of networks that rely on casual connections across a broad range of people. The tool itself is set up to show you two options for handing an invitation by default: accept or ignore. There is a way to first find out more about your potential connection by first engaging in discussion, but the option is buried in the “manage invitations” interface (it’s not even accessible from the potential connection’s profile unless you have InMail), which encourages people to hit accept if they’d rather find out whether the connection is worthwhile than ignore the invitation entirely.
There are speakers and experts who advise accepting all invitations for a variety of good reasons, with only a couple of caveats (i.e., say no to people you don’t like and competitors). The LinkedIn Open Networker (LION) approach is about accepting most new invitations as an opportunity to broaden a network as much as possible. This is the kind of loose and broad connection I referred to previously, and can be particularly beneficial within certain professions that rely on this sort of network very heavily (recruiters come to mind).
There are differing camps about who we should and shouldn’t connect with. Some are a bit exclusive (think: what can they do for me), some are selective (think: how can we help each other), and some are anything-goes (think: the more the merrier). In my own experience, I have found tremendous value in my approach to more purposeful networking, but my own definition of success is not traditional, and I’ve definitely struggled in more traditional environments. In the second post in this series, I write about my own experience with LinkedIn and how I use it to network in a way that’s authentic to me (and what I learned when I strayed from that approach).
In the meantime… how do you work your networking magic? Do you avoid one on one meetings with the opposite gender? Do you accept every invite?