Through the process of writing my last article, one thread of conversation that consistently emerged in speaking with executive women was around the topic of networking. For some, this was a fundamental tool in helping them achieve their success. For others, networking was less of a focus, and more of a byproduct, as they advanced their career. Almost every woman I spoke with had a different take on how to best go about networking. It struck me that although some women (and people, in general), thrive in networking environments; others dread them (myself included). However, I do believe each person can find success in networking in his or her way.
Networking is an essential tool to be utilized as one continues to advance their career. It allows you to learn from other perspectives within your field, specialism, or tenure. Networking also opens up a wealth of opportunity for mentorship, new career opportunities, exposure in your sector, and personal development. There is significant research to back up the benefits of networking. Some longer-term studies even link it to the growth of salary over time as well as overall career satisfaction. Wolff, H.-G., & Moser, K. (2009). Effects of networking on career success: A longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (1), 196-206. DOI: 10.1037/a0013350
I have approached writing this article by seeking out more perspectives from women who can speak from their past and present on the importance of networking and the benefits it brought to them. Their experiences are not just relatable to younger women in the industry, seeking to advance their careers similarly. These experiences should also provide a new perspective on how to tackle networking in a way that also aligns with one’s personality, personal situation, and own network.
Each of the women I spoke with has emphasized the importance of building relationships and connections in the industry, albeit their approaches were highly individualized. Through my conversations, it became clear to me that, as a collective, for these women to rise from VP level through to CEO, they needed advocates and mentors to support them in their journey. In a male-dominated industry where the number of women at the top barely moves year-on-year, often our networks are what provide that extra level of support to open up new doors, vouch for a track record of achievement, and provide advice.
As Kerrie Brady, CBO of Centrexion Therapeutics said, “Through networking, the biggest thing is that you learn so much because even if you don’t get anything, you learn different perspectives.” For her, networking is less about the specific interview or role she gets from networking. Instead, it is more about the invaluable advice, stories, and relationships she’s learned as a result; all providing her with clarity and direction as her career has advanced. Brady said this became more critical as she moved towards the C-Suite. While some information may have seemed “obvious” to more of an internal network, there were several things that she learned about what to expect from speaking with people about her next role.
This perspective is incredibly applicable as women seek out their next role. As you begin to think about where you see your next career move, think about reaching out to learn from other women in that type of position or seniority-level. They may have gone through similar challenges and will be able to advise on the next steps to take. Or, their perspective during your investigating to decide if that career move is the right one for you.
However, what works for one person may not work for another. Several studies suggest that your personality type correlates to the kind of network you develop and how others perceive your intentions in networking situations. Raj, M., Fast, N. J., & Fisher, O. (2017). Identity and Professional Networking. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(6), 772–784. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217697299
Research by Raj et al. points to three main factors that influence one’s ability to network professionally. Extraversion (one’s motivation to connect with others and be noticed in social situations), one’s assessment on the perceived importance of networking, and one’s identity (our concept of who we are as a person). Medha, R., Fast, N.J., & Fisher, O. (2017). Identity and professional networking. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 43(6), 772-784.
Marla Kessler, SVP of Strategy, Marketing, and Communications for IQVIA shared with me that throughout her career she has operated mainly under the framework of the PIE model (Performance, Image, and Exposure). As she has continued to advance, she first thought, “If I worked hard enough, that hard work speaks for itself.” But while hard work is a significant factor that propelled her career forward, she realized performance alone was not enough. “I’m not going to change who I am. I won’t be superficial, but I realized what I could do to better myself.” Kessler said, acknowledging that she needed to strategize a way to get her name out there more to continue to gain exposure to new and higher-level opportunities. Kessler shared that her approach is focused less on spreading out her network, and more on deepening the contacts she’s already made throughout her career. “It doesn’t take much to keep up to date with people. Send them a message saying congrats on LinkedIn. Use it as a tool to stay in contact and keep the relationship alive.” Kessler found that by keeping these relationships over time, she has expanded her network, gaining contacts throughout her career. Now, there’s a broad range of people who can speak to her successes, capabilities, and character.
In many ways, Kessler put into practice a lot of what Raj, Fast, and Fisher found in their study. For their research, participants were prompted to mentally associate their identities with networking. This association was achieved first by reading tips on how to network. Then, participants were asked to write a list of the ways they believed they could network in a way that aligned with their personalities and comfort level. Once they had done this, individuals were more likely to show interest in networking, regardless of how extraverted they were or weren’t. Once Kessler identified a method in which she felt comfortable networking, the task became more natural and, by consequence, more rewarding. Interestingly, her approach of focusing on strengthening existing contacts is a practice strongly encouraged by researchers. It’s identified as the variable linked the most strongly to long-term career satisfaction. Wolff, H.-G., & Moser, K. (2009). Effects of networking on career success: A longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (1), 196-206. DOI: 10.1037/a0013350
This research and Kessler’s testament speaks volumes to how a simple mentality shift and differentiated strategy can pay dividends. Even the shyest can start to approach the question of how to naturally incorporate it into their professional lives. The other good news is that there are also plenty of resources out there to give useful tips on different ways to go about networking based on personality type. This article includes a few suggestions on networking styles based on one’s Myers-Briggs personality type.
I had the opportunity to speak with organizational psychologist and adjunct professor, Dr. Ben Dattner, regarding a contributing article he wrote in Psychology Today. He stressed the importance of refraining from networking only when you need something. He linked networking to the same basic tenets of the “norm of reciprocity.” The idea that if you genuinely try to be helpful to someone else in their career journey, they’ll do the same for you in return. Reciprocity could be giving advice, sharing articles, and touching base with people at random times to let them know you care about their success. Dattner gave a simple tip of setting Google News Alerts for important contacts, so you get an alert if someone changes jobs or gets a promotion. Dattner, Ben. “The psychology of networking.” Psychology Today. 4 May 2008. Sussex Publishers. 22 Sept. 2019
The other tactic Kessler, and several other women, noted, is to maintain a strong personal brand and be forthright about what you want. When those opportunities come, your network will know what you’re trying to achieve and will support you in your journey there. “Put it out to the universe,” Kessler said. This type of vocalization will ensure you’re top of mind when people in your network hear of an opportunity, and you’ll be the first they reach out to about it.
Speaking on behalf of oneself is one thing Elma Hawkins, CEO of RedPin Therapeutics, said she emphasized early on in her career. She shared that while she attended fewer networking events, she put more focus on consistently offering to take on new projects or vocalize her view in a room. This outspokenness allowed her to be well-known within her smaller network of colleagues. And, then allowed her to build a consistent self-brand that she was known for in her market. Hawkins acknowledged that many times throughout her career, she found herself seated in a room surrounded by men. She felt she had to be outspoken to ensure she was the one gaining access to the opportunities that continued to propel her. As she progressed, Hawkins began to notice some of the pressures that come to women in networking scenarios. She said sometimes women are almost forced to ask themselves, “[Should I] act like a woman or a man?” And, she posed the hypothetical, “When you’re at that level, who are you?” This commentary aligns with the very real dilemma some women run into when faced with a male-dominated scenario in a professional setting. At times, women can feel like they have to act a certain way in a crowd to make themselves heard.
In fact, research done by Antoni Barnard points to just that. Women in male-dominated fields tend to build up resilience to their industries by either relying on the use of femininity or adopting male characteristics among other mechanisms to be able to continue to thrive in their position. Barnard, A. (2013). The experience of women in male-dominated occupations: A constructivist grounded theory inquiry. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology. (39). Doi: 10.4102/sajip.v39i2.1099
It is dangerous to think that the environments that cultivated within some company cultures or professional events have the potential to force women to alter their identity to fit an image. In its most extreme, it has the potential to thwart ideas, and ultimately, inhibit growth if women don’t feel empowered to be themselves. To this predicament, Elma said to be who you are. She advised women to work smart, work hard, and speak up for what they believe in to win over smaller projects, as well as bigger career moves.
Speaking up and trying new things can start on a small scale, as Grace Colón, CEO of InCarda Therapeutics, recommended. On the topic of networking, she said, “The more you find out what’s out there, the more opportunities you’ll put in your path. And, the more you can write your own story and figure out how to get there.” For Colon, this starts within your own company.
Colón suggests that if you’re interested in learning a new functional area, skill set, or project, take small steps in learning how to get there. That can mean attending a class, inviting a colleague in a different functional area out to lunch to learn about their work, or speaking to your manager about attending an event relevant to your interest. She said the most important thing is to put yourself “in a learning mode.” Through constant curiosity and testing new boundaries on a smaller scale in your own company, you can explore new passions that may lead you down a different path. At the very least, it will allow you to engage in areas that will expand your professional network and give you a broader understanding of your field.
Dattner said companies could help to prompt some of this learning. He emphasized the importance of companies having “commons” areas where people can meet and have informal interactions where they can share ideas. “The more you can foster a communal feeling; the more people will feel part of the bigger picture. Physical space is a good way to do that.” Communal areas can exist in the form of a quad, cafeteria, lawn, etc.
Analyses from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) back this suggestion. Their work points to a strong link between increased retention and having both solid internal relationships as well as a continuous opportunity within the company.
Creating shared spaces is one action point that companies can begin to put in place immediately if they haven’t already. If your company does have a spot where people congregate, then a good question may be, how much is it currently utilized? Maybe consider additional ways you or others can encourage more frequent get-togethers and group activities.
Whether or not networking is your forté, it is an essential component of your continued professional development. That is especially true if your long-term goal is to obtain an executive-level position like these women. Keep in mind; networking happens at every level. Everyone I spoke with shared their strategies for networking that they still put into practice today; selecting certain events and opportunities based on their objectives. The important thing is to find and develop a method of networking that works well for your personality and goals. Be organized with your professional contacts, so no one slips through the cracks, and always be genuine. Overall, on the topic of networking, there are a few clear takeaways. Women should remember to use networking as a tool to continuously learn, advocate for yourself, and your goals to others in your network. And finally, establish genuine connections so you’ll never lose out on those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to get you to that next level.
In my next articles, I’ll share more on their advice to the biopharma industry on how to incorporate diversity into hiring.
Interested in sharing your thoughts? Reach out to Katie!