By Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

In this extract from the second edition of his Amazon UK bestseller '...and Death Came Third!', networking strategist Andy Lopata looks at networking for different genders.

Andy discusses the gender-balance at many networking events, looks at research into the way men and women network and then offers some suggestions as to how to network considerately with these points in mind.

Many networks, ours included, suffer from a poor representation by women amongst their membership. As a result many networking events are male dominated and women—only networks are growing in popularity.

This is something that we are keen to reverse. The more male—dominated events become, the less attractive they are for women to attend and the problem, subsequently, becomes worse. In general (and I accept that this is a generalisation), women are much better listeners than men and tend to be more alert to connections that they can make. Networks would undoubtedly benefit from a better gender balance.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph in November 2005, Etta Cohen of Forward Ladies in Leeds said, “Women behave differently when men are not there. It’s more relaxed. Women spend more time getting to know people.

“Men will concentrate more on ‘We have come together for business, what is your business?’ Women will talk more about family, clothes, holidays. It’s not that they are not business focused, but they want to get to know people.

“Every lady comes to this network to do business. But they want to do it in an environment where they don’t feel threatened.”

It is important to be aware of the key differences in how men and women communicate when networking with people of the opposite sex, as this will drive the way they approach such events. Men will often look to dominate conversations and bring them around to their point of view, while women look to be more inclusive.

Mary E. Hughes, in her presentation Gender Differences in Communication, said, “Some of the differences in communication styles between men and women reflect general differences in their world views. For men, conversations are negotiations and reflect who is in charge, who is right, and who knows the answers. For women, conversations are opportunities to be close, to connect with others, to create a network, and to maintain relationships.”

Interestingly, the Australian feminist and author Dale Spender has run a number of studies on this issue. In her book Man Made Language she taped people’s conversations and discovered women: “asked the right questions, provided encouragement and feedback, made the male speaker feel important. But this meant that men did most of the talking.

“Women who did talk for more than about one third of the conversation were most often described as bossy, aggressive, rude, and as dominating the conversation, even when they got much less than a 50 per cent share.”

In another study, Dale found that men interrupt 98% more than women and men generally define a good conversation as one where they held the floor, while women generally define a good conversation as one where everyone had a turn.

Once you have a strong understanding of the different way men and women approach networking, approach conversations and interact in a group, you should be better able to adapt the way you participate.

There is a clear responsibility for event organisers to address key issues such as the time and location of the meetings to encourage more women to attend. Everyone present also shares the burden of responsibility, ensuring that the overriding focus of everyone present is ‘getting to know people’.

Many people feel strongly that men should treat women in exactly the same way that they would treat other men in business. I agree with this view, to a point. While traditional courtesy, such as opening a door, should not be out of place, too much attention paid to the other person’s gender can be counterproductive. In the very worst scenarios you risk being seen as ‘slimy’ or your behaviour as inappropriate.

Where I disagree with the point of view above is that it does not allow for women’s feelings on attending male—dominated events. Where men congregate in groups it can be daunting for women to ‘break in’ to the group. The same is true for men attending women’s networking events, as I have done in the past, and it is important to be aware of such feelings and ensure that you are welcoming.

If you are female, new to networking and are daunted by the prospect of going to a male—dominated event, there are two positive steps you can take to ease the fear. You can start by going to women—only events to get used to networking and presenting and build your confidence. These events are excellent and well—worth attending but, depending on your networking strategy, I would suggest looking to attend other events as well.

To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk / 01992 450488.

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