Women are born networkers. After all, at its core, networking is about connecting with other people, and that’s something women excel at. Connecting is in our DNA.
Given that we have the social gene, I’ve been surprised in my work as a coach and the research I did for my new book, The Female Brand, that women often don’t have an expansive network – yet men do. We women tend to favor deep relationships with a group of close friends, a preference evolutionary scientists trace back to our roots as family caretakers and home keepers. We also see the preference for close, intense relationships in playground studies. Most girls tend to pair up and play one-on-one or with a small group, while boys are more likely to play with a series of different mates and play with a larger group. Later, when female hormones kick in, the preference for intimate relationships with a small group of friends accelerates.
A small group of deep relationships provides women with a reliable source of support and advice, but in the wider world of careers and brand building, a small though intensely committed group is not as advantageous as a large network of contacts – even if those contacts are superficial. In my coaching of senior executives, I also found that women, unlike men, are less likely to ask for a favor or introduction unless they know someone well. For many women, calling up a virtual stranger is painful. Likewise, women seemed more reluctant to do a favor for someone they didn’t know – say, recommend a friend of a friend for a job – unless they had actual experience working with the person.
Men, on the whole, seem less constrained in networking. Guys understand the mutual advantage of helping one another out. Many men can know someone casually or hardly at all and think it’s no big deal to call him to arrange an informational interview or pitch him for a specific job opportunity. They feel more comfortable pitching a casual friend or a friend of a friend.
That same tendency may be apparent in a recent Harvard Business Publishing study on Twitter usage, based on a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009. Though men and women follow a similar number of users, men have 15 percent more followers than women and they have more reciprocated relationships in which two users follow each other, according to the report. The study also pointed out that women seem to be less compelled to have followers or “have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships.”
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