When we talk about building your network, it’s really about building a community of support. It isn’t about working the room, schmoozing, or collecting business cards. In fact, it doesn’t even have to take place at a big cocktail party or conference.
Why Networking Matters
These days, having a network of contacts, connections and people to partner with is more important than ever. With greater ease of access to information, it’s our relationships that help us differentiate ourselves. In fact, without a good network, nowadays it’s hard to find a job, do that job well, and position ourselves to advance to the next level.
When you build your community and broaden your network, you gain access to a new well of knowledge, experience and contacts. And each of those people in your community has their own network that becomes your extended network, which you can access and activate as needed. And it’s reciprocal, so you’re also offering your network the same benefits.
How To Go About Networking
For many people, the whole idea of networking feels icky and overwhelming. Plus, who has spare time to devote to something that doesn’t have a clear payoff in the near term? Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Here, 10 strategies to be more successful at networking.
Frame Networking In a Positive Way
You’ll have the most success if you think about it as building a community of support. Whenever you think of an activity as something to dread, you may put it off or do it badly, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead treat it as an experiment, look at the benefits; then it all becomes more easeful.
Recognize that Networking Is an Investment
It’s like building the foundation for your house. You’re building relationships that are the foundation for your career. It’s an investment that may yield returns over a longer period, and maybe even through another part of the network. The good thing is, these relationships are a portable asset that travels with you no matter where you go. That portability means it’s never a wasted effort, and also serves as a useful reminder to avoid taking a transnational approach, such as expecting immediate, on-the-spot results.
Be Clear About Your Purpose
Reminding yourself of why you’re building this community will help you to take action, and to take actions that make sense. For example, your “why” will guide the kinds of invitations you accept and the people you choose to approach given your limited time. And every once in a while, say yes to something you normally wouldn’t say yes to. That keeps things fresh while also testing whether your criteria are still appropriate.
So what is your purpose? Is it about building your network for the job you’re in? To be in the flow of future opportunities? To learn and gain knowledge in a particular area or aspect? To find business partners?
All of these are valid goals, and you can have more than one. The important thing is to identify what those goals are so that you can be open to the opportunities that come your way.
Do It Your Own Way
If big events aren’t your thing, don’t sweat it. You can choose to network in one-on-one mode or in small groups instead. Nobody said you have to go to the massive “meat market” events. Invite someone for a coffee, form a running group, come up with the settings that work best for you.
For my introverted client, his solution is to start setting up more targeted coffee meetings, whether one-to-one or in a small group, and to attend only the absolutely necessary big events. And when he wants to broaden his circle, he’ll ask for advice on whether there’s anyone else he should be talking to on the subject.
Show Up and Set a Goal
When you find that you have to be in a large group setting, set a goal and let yourself off the hook once you achieve it. For example, if you’re shy, you could set the goal of talking to someone within 30 seconds of entering the room, which will break the ice. Or decide that you will introduce yourself to 3 people and find out something intriguing about them. Who knows, you might even end up enjoying it and outperforming your own expectations.
Another strategy when you’re uncomfortable going it alone at a big reception is to agree to go with someone else.
Experts have discovered that if you approach a group of people on your own, they were unlikely to let him into the conversation. But if you are accompanied by another person, then both would be welcomed into the group. Perhaps this has to do with the concept of social proof– that if you’re in a pair, then at least someone finds you acceptable. In any case, we teamed up that evening and it worked like a charm.
Network From Wherever You Are
Sometimes it doesn’t take extra time from your day to network if you’re sitting next to someone in a conference, on a flight, at a neighbor’s barbecue, or in a WeWork space. When you see someone new or someone who you would like to get to know in your normal course of life, start a conversation. Introduce yourself. Be interested in learning about them. Make use of your daily travels to build your network – there’s the added benefit of being easy to keep in contact if you find there’s a potential connection. Don't forget to travel with your business cards.
Come Up With a Set of Stock Phrases
When you have a set of ways to open a conversation it can be less daunting to participate actively in larger settings. Why not use them as an opportunity to try out different ways to talk about what you do? It's invaluable to see how your approach “lands” with people.
For example, my client also set himself the task of coming up with a list of different descriptors for what he does. He referred to them as “little elevator speeches” that he can use when he goes to networking events.
Once you get beyond the first meeting, and if you decide it’s worth keeping in touch, then be willing to give before you take. I like to follow up with a note and an article or some other thoughtful offer that builds on what we talked about. For example, if we’ve spoken about a common interest in leadership, I might send my favorite article as a follow up, or make them aware of an interesting program on the subject. Or better yet, find a way to help them achieve their goals by making an introduction to someone else who can help them.
But Then, Do Ask
Building your community is a two-way street. By making an ask now and then, it can strengthen the relationship. Plus, that way, both sides can feel they’ve contributed. For example, some of my mentees have expressed concern that they are getting all the value without contributing, and always feel better when I ask them for some insights on what their fellow Millennials are thinking.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that while it is easy to get overwhelmed, you have to start somewhere. The important thing is to get going, and keep going. It’s better to start small and keep it up rather than go in bursts that you can’t maintain.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.