I am fortunate to be invited to a lot of women’s meetings, and they often give me a chance to think of appropriate networking tips for women. It’s great to be around high-powered women and enjoy their energy and their achievements — but it also needs to be great for business. Coming together is one of the ways we as women overcome obstacles, help each other, and thrive.
So why do we so often spend these meetings discussing men? When I leave these meetings feel disappointed and even annoyed, it’s usually because of three common behaviors at women’s networking events. They are behaviors born of powerlessness, and it’s time for us to let them go.
Women’s Networking Event Idea No. 1: Don’t pander
Picture a large room filled with men who have gathered together for business networking and an educational presentation. There are a few women present, guests of the men who are members of the organization. The host gets up to welcome everyone. “Gentlemen,” he says. “We’re delighted by this great turnout and looking forward to a great program. Oh — I should acknowledge the ladies in the room. You’re brave to be here. I hope you don’t find all this masculinity too overwhelming!”
I don’t know about you, but I cannot picture that ever happening — and I’ve been in a lot of mostly-male gatherings. I have never heard a male host complimenting the women for being there or apologizing for the gendered nature of the gathering.
But I’ve heard it again and again in women’s meetings. It’s as if we’re sucking up to the men in the room and simultaneously apologizing to them for any discomfort they may be feeling in a gathering of women. We need to knock that off. They’re lucky to be welcomed into a women’s gathering, just as we feel lucky when the men include us.
So, what should a female host say instead? How about just welcoming everyone without reference to gender? Or commenting on the diversity of the audience in general? We really don’t need to fall all over ourselves, thanking the men for deigning to join our women networking events!
Women’s Networking Event Idea No. 2: Don’t mourn, organize
It’s time for us to stop whining about why the boys won’t let us into their clubs. I recently went to a panel of women who are leaders in Artificial Intelligence. They spoke about their careers and their achievements. They shared their perspectives on where AI is going and what it means for business leaders. They never once complained about discrimination or mistreatment. It was so refreshing!
Don’t get me wrong — there is a time and a place for women to speak up about the barriers we face. But when we hear that theme over and over again at women’s gatherings, it’s demoralizing. It saps our energy. Instead, let’s talk about our successes and how we can help each other to achieve more of them.
Women’s Networking Event Idea No. 3: Don’t knock men down
I’m quite appalled at how often I hear women speakers make sweeping generalizations about men and women, usually to the detriment of men. I have heard women describing men as arrogant, dishonest, emotionally insensitive — the list goes on and on. These stereotypes are usually without any scientific basis. They’re inaccurate and unkind. They ignore the reality that men often feel just as insecure and out of their depth as women do. I know, because I’ve worked as a therapist and a coach for hundreds of men over several decades. In spite of what many women seem to believe, it ain’t always so easy being a guy.
I understand that these generalizations are born of the frustration so many women feel about the ways we are minimized or excluded. But just as it is wrong for men to buy into negative, hostile stereotypes of women, it is equally wrong for us to promote demeaning myths about them. This is defensive behavior, not the behavior of power and self-confidence.
My real networking tips for women
Let’s continue to come together as women. Let’s welcome the men who want to join us without apologizing to them. Let’s focus on our successes and on how we can help each other to accomplish even more together. And let’s recognize that as men and women we are all people with strengths and faults, instead of denigrating each other. I’d like to go to those meetings – and I think they’ll get us where we want to go a whole lot faster.