Winning a Seat at the Boys’ Table

There are few workplace relationships trickier than networking with the opposite sex. You want to seem personable without coming off as flirtatious. You want to be knowledgeable without seeming superior. Most importantly, you want to make meaningful connections not only in your workplace but also in your chosen industry in order to learn more about your profession and advance your career. Traditionally speaking, men tend to network with other men while women network with other women. Not only is it more comfortable for both genders, the potential legal and social ramifications of a networking relationship gone awry can be debilitating. Still, according to Herminia Ibarra’s book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (2015), men’s networks still tend to wield the most power in organizations and networking with men is a necessary part of advancing one’s career. The question then becomes, as a woman, how do you forge strong professional bonds with men, thereby winning a seat at the boys’ table?

1. Learn to be direct.

Too often, women apologetically hint around their needs, wishes and desires and expect the men in their lives to put the pieces together. Not only frustrating in personal relationships, this is especially damaging for women who are trying to network with men who are, traditionally, direct communicators. Use words like, “Will you” and “May I” when making requests and “I am” and “I have” when talking about your accomplishments. If you are looking for a new opportunity, say it. If you are looking for potential clients, say it. If you are interested sharing knowledge or skills, say it.

2. Understand reciprocity.

Women are often reluctant to engage in networking relationships with men because they do not understand the true meaning of reciprocity. Thinking they have to “exchange favors” to get ahead or rely on their “connections” to move up, many women eschew networking entirely citing their need to “let their accomplishments speak for themselves”. In reality, reciprocity is the practice of creating a mutually beneficial relationship. Understanding how your particular set of knowledge, skills and abilities can benefit not only the person you are networking with but their organization as a whole only means your accomplishments are speaking to a broader audience. Reciprocity also works with men in your existing network. If you introduce a friend to a colleague who can help him achieve a work goal, he is more apt to do likewise when it is your turn.

3. Be strategic in your networking.

Many women who attend corporate events, after-conference cocktail parties, or post-work functions will attest that the level of inappropriate behavior rises in direct correlation with the amount of alcohol consumed. Rather than attempting to have a serious, work-related conversation with a key influencer who has had three glasses of pinot, be aware of opportunities to have strategic, meaningful conversations during work hours. Chat it up with managers on the bus after a leadership off-site. Talk to

the people you are standing in line with at the conference. Interact with up-and-comers in the break room. Not only will you avoid potentially uncomfortable situations, you will be able to develop your network without spending your valuable time outside of work.

4. Broaden Your Range

One of the main differences between how men and women network is found in the range of their reach. Men tend to accumulate a broad network of associates, focused on a specific purpose while women tend to form deeper connections on several levels. Where men tend to approach networking situations with the need to create connections they can rely on later, women tend to approach the same event with the, “Who can I help” mentality. As a result, women turn to their networks when they feel they have something to offer while men turn to them when they have a need. By broadening the range of our influence, we can make connections to create reciprocity with both men and women in our circles.

Even if it is initially uncomfortable, networking with both men and women is essential to career advancement in the business world. With nearly 1 million members, IAW is the largest women’s networking organization in the United States. Hone your networking skills by attending one of our online or in person events – visit our event calendar at

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