You could see it everywhere at the recent AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston:
Women were confidently exchanging business cards – with both men and women – as important business connections were made.
It was, to many observers, inspiring.
And yet, paradoxically, one of the hottest topics at the conference’s PROWESS forum was the lack of network support women in the geosciences professions felt – especially those in leadership positions.
The forum was titled “You’ve Come A Long Way Baby – Evolution of the Work Environment in the Oil and Gas Industry,” and it featured six women with upper management positions in the energy industry.
Those attending shared their feelings of isolation and voiced their need for more women mentors and sponsors, and more communication with women in their same positions to trade ideas and ask advice.
“Women are getting very good at this card exchange, and it is becoming the norm at conferences and networking events,” said Betsy Bagley, principal consult for NLC Strategies who attended the forum – but, she added, it’s not enough.
“Trading business cards is a means, not an end,” she said. “The end goal of networking is to be able to leverage established relationships at key points in your career.
“It is essential to build and maintain these relationships before you need them,” she said. “People hire people, not résumés.”
A study from the Journal of Organizational Behavior supports Bagley’s claim by concluding, “People with strong networks and good mentors enjoy more promotions, higher pay and greater career satisfaction.”
Not all women have got the message.
A McKinsey & Company’s 2011 report, “Unlocking the Full Potential of Women in the U.S. Economy,” showed that:
The same study interviewed women in an effort to explain these numbers, and found the “lack of access to informal networks where they can make important connections, a lack of female role models higher up in the organization, and a lack of sponsors to provide opportunities, which many male colleagues have” were the main factors.
However, as displayed and discussed at the ACE in Houston, resources and technology now available to women are providing the chance for change.
Bagley recommends going to conferences, trading business cards, following with emails, phone calls or even face-to-face meetings.
There also are dozens of professional networking sites available, like Linked-In, the Association for Women Geoscientists, Society of Women Engineers, Women’s Energy Network, GeoNetworx and Catalyst.
“Men’s clubs and golf outings were some traditional ways men built professional relationships,” Bagley said. “It took women a little while to realize they were missing something more than golf when they opted out.”
According to a September 2010 article in GSA Today, even something as simple as blogging is proving to benefit women. GSA found that those women who read and wrote blogs about their work benefitted over others, because they experienced less feeling of isolation.
Companies are catching on, as well, finding that they also benefit by helping their women employees to network.
“Effective women’s networks are helping companies achieve initiatives in the recruitment, retention and advancement of women,” Bagley said, “and also in the development of business with and through women.”
One success story includes the Dain Rauscher Corp., which found that as a result of its networking mentor program, career development opportunities and annual conference sales for its women’s network members increased 19.2 percent – 5 percent more than the rest of the firm. The firm’s recruitment and retention rates also went up.
It is important to remember that networking, if not done correctly, can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.
“Effective networking is disciplined, reciprocal, and strategic,” Bagley said.
Also, networking is useless if one’s work does not live up to their reputation.
“Build network relations and establish credibility through hard work and excellent performance,” Bagley said. “Then, when it’s time to ask for something significant at work, you can find an advocate to set the stage, pave the way for you, or speak on your behalf.”
Betsy Bagley, principal consult for NLC Strategies, consults with companies and universities on issues involving women and dual-career employees.
Betsy Bagley’s top tips for networking:
♦ Choose where to invest your energy, both within your organization and externally.
“Attend events that connect you with important men and women in your company and industry.”
♦ Treat everyone with respect.
“You never know who will be in a position to support you in the future.”
♦ Figure out the difference between socializing and networking. It is not enough to just be pleasant and interesting; get professional..
“Just showing up at a networking event is not enough. Talk about your work and careers. Follow up where appropriate.”
♦ Networking should also be reciprocal.
“Give before you get.”