Women into Leadership: Networking


Category: Leadership

March 20, 2020

"Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." - Brene Brown

Women networking
Photo by Katy Anne on Unsplash

During the Hilda Matheson: Women into Leadership programme, the fourth topic we worked on was networking. A network is a set of relationships that you depend on to: get things done, get ahead in your career, develop professionally.

Your networks

Most of us realise that networking is essential, for both getting things done in our day-to-day jobs and for our longer-term career progression. But, when it comes to daily choices about how we spend our time, developing our networks intentionally tends to fall far down the list of priorities.

Barriers to networking

While networking is difficult for most people, research shows that it is always harder for women working in business and industry environments in which they are few and far between for three reasons:

Likes attract

The “likes attract” principle, which refers to our tendency to be more easily drawn to people who are similar to us, combined with male-dominated senior ranks, organisations and industries, means women often have to work harder to build relationships with decision makers and influential stakeholders.

Networking across functional and hierarchical differences is hard enough; adding gender make it harder.

Separate spheres

A consequence of our natural preferences for hanging out with people like us is that women’s work and social networks tend to overlap less than men’s. When people are asked who they would contact about work matters and who they hang out with outside work, men often have some of the same people on both lists  – they’ll play football, watch a sporting event or go for dinner with some of those work contacts.  Women, in contrast, are more likely to have two separate lists: one for work activities and one for social activities.

Maintaining separate spheres can mean women at a disadvantage for two reasons. Firstly, it’s more time consuming to manage two separate networks. Secondly, participating in conversations about important work matters outside formal meetings creates camaraderie and increases trust.  Because women are consistently excluded from informal gatherings such as games of golf and private dinners, it takes longer to achieve influence.

Using People

The “likes attract” principle and “separate spheres” dynamic increase the likelihood that women will have unfavourable views about strategic networking. The more we differ from key stakeholders the more likely that we’ll see a more intentional approach as disingenuous and calculating – all about selfish gain and “using people” as ways of advancing one’s career.

The problem with limiting our networking to people with whom we naturally “click,” however, is that it produces networks that don't give us the breadth and diversity of inputs we need to understand the world around us, to make good decisions and to get people who are different from us on board with our ideas.

The 3 networks you should have:

  1. Operational (what’s needed to get todays work done)

  2. Personal (informal, people you want to hang out with)

  3. Strategic (gets you resources, opportunities , influence, achieve your goals)

It is useful to map these networks out and think about which ones are the strongest and which ones may need a bit more nurturing.

Your personal boardroom

The Personal Boardroom is a concept we were introduced to in the programme to help with career development. It states that 'you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.' 

It’s about building a support network and go-to people who can help you have success in your career. This is a tool to achieve that.  You should be proactive in building your boardroom and it can include people from work and your personal life. The boardroom includes three broad roles - information roles, power roles and development roles. 

Personal boardroom diagram

Source of image: https://www.personalboardroom.com/

Information roles

The people who give you access to the information needed to get the job done:

  • Customer voice gives you insight into the minds of the user.

  • Expert gives you access to specific professional knowledge you don’t yet have.

  • Inspirer brings new ideas and push the boundaries of your thinking.

  • Navigator tells you who you need to know - they’ll help you find your way through unknown territory and unfamiliar situations.

Power roles

Made up of people with influence:

  • Unlocker provides access to the resources you need to things done - that might be your CD, for example.

  • Sponsor speaks out to endorse you and your ideas to senior or important people - you can be proactive in getting a sponsor.

  • Influencer works behind the scenes to win support and help you get things done

  • Connector makes introductions and connects you with useful people who you would not otherwise reach.

Development roles

They help you to improve and grow without burning yourself out:

  • Improver tells you what’s working and where you can improve.

  • Challenger challenges your decisions and help you break you out of habitual ways of thinking.

  • Nerve-giver helps you stick with decisions even when the going gets tough.

  • Anchor keeps you grounded and holds you to account work-life balance. They care about your well-being, and they want you to stay true to your values.

If you think about your own personal boardroom, think about who’s in there and who’s not. Identify the gaps, and think about the people who could be in there. To help you get started with mapping it out go to https://www.personalboardroom.com/


A close cousin of networking, is self-promotion.

“When women were most proactive in making their achievements visible they advanced further…were more satisfied with their careers, and had greater compensation growth than women who were less focused on calling attention to their successes,” - Based on research published in Forbes.

Self-promotion can be as simple as a conversation with your boss about your achievements to date and goals going forward. Or it can be a social media post, sharing you and your teams recent success on a project. It is good to think about what to share and what is most relevant. For example, as a leader, accomplishments that demonstrate how your leadership of cross-functional teams led to the success of a project may be more relevant than an individual achievement, however impressive.

Putting yourself out there is not a broad, clear concept. To put yourself out there effectively means you practice self-promotion, you showcase your value, and you engage the audience who are making the decisions or know about the opportunities. You raise your odds of serendipitous outcomes, unexpected offers, and lucky breaks.

To get started, think about your biggest achievements in the last 6 months. Then think about who you shared those achievements with and how. If you did share them, think about the outcomes. If you didn't share them with anyone, think about doing so next time.

Another way to promote yourself is to have a brand.

Personal brand

It takes as little as a tenth of a second for someone to form an impression of you. What they’re figuring out is your personal brand – who you are and what you’re all about. Therefore, before stepping out networking, it's extremely useful to work on your personal brand, so you can clearly and effectively communicate who you are.

"Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room" - Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.

Elements to think of when defining your personal brand are:

Values - The principles by which you live your life, the moral compass you use to define right and wrong.

Drivers - What motivates you to do what you do, to be happy doing it and push you to succeed.

Reputation - What you want to be known for (or already are), the thing people think of the instant they hear your name.

Behaviours - Your personality and character – who you truly are. They’re what you say and do as an outward communication of your deeper Values.

Skills/Strengths - The Skills you have learned and honed (often technical) plus the Strengths you were born with (often behavioural) enable you to build and develop your knowledge and experience.

Image - Your image is the packaging for your brand – how you look (clothes, accessories), how you sound (accent, tone, words) and how you act (body language, eye contact). These provide the clues to the other five elements of your brand. For each element write down some key words that relate to you and think about how you can start (or enhance) how you communicate these to others.

How we show up?

As humans, where we don’t know details, we make them up based on the way we see the world. This means our perception of how we show up may be different to others. Through your personal branding, we have the opportunity to take control of other people's perceptions of us, i.e. give them the details.


  • Networking is something as women we need to make time for.

  • Naturally women are at a disadvantage when it comes to networking.

  • We can build our strategic networks by forming our own personal boardroom.

  • Self-promotion can help us get more visibility and get noticed for what we are good at.

  • Developing a personal brand can help us be clear on who we are and what we are about to others when we network.

Get in touch

If you would like to work together, talk about design or ask for advice, please get in touch.