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Networking doesn’t need to be painful, but it does need to be tailored towards women who want to network

Extroverts may love it, but for some people, the prospect of attending a networking event is enough to make you squirm. And if you’re a woman, that feeling of dread might be what experts now call “personal hesitation” and “gendered modesty”.

According to a study published in academic journal Human Relations, gender can play a major part in that feeling of visceral dislike toward networking events.

The feeling of dread some people feel towards networking might be what experts now call “personal hesitation” and “gendered modesty”.

The feeling of dread some people feel towards networking might be what experts now call “personal hesitation” and “gendered modesty”.Credit: iStock

While previous research looked at structural barriers such as work and family conflict, and the tendency for people to seek out or be attracted to those who are similar to themselves, the 2018 study, titled “Why Women Build Less Powerful Relationships Than Men”, aimed to address an additional layer by looking at personal hesitation, relational morality and gendered modesty. Even more specifically, women who feel uncomfortable with the exploitative nature of networking, and women who often network with lower-level peers due to lack of confidence in their own network contribution.

The study revealed that while men’s networks “can be characterised as more utilitarian or instrumental” women’s tend to be more socially oriented, leaning towards being “smaller, more localised, and community-minded.”

Discovering this research suddenly allowed me to feel seen, heard and a little more normal about my aversion to traditional networking. Though I’ve always known the importance of making an effort to connect with others in my industry and force myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve always despised the idea of networking and had assumed that maybe I was just a bit anti-social. But this research pinpointed why I (and many other women) felt the way I felt.

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Historically, networking events have been developed in a way that made me feel as though I had to pretend: pretend I have my shit together, pretend my business is thriving, pretend I’m not the only woman at the table (especially if it’s a venture-capital-hosted portfolio event, where my business co-founder and I have routinely found ourselves to be the only women).

But women shouldn’t be missing out on networking’s advantages simply because the structure is off. And discovering I might hate these events for reasons like “personal hesitation, relational morality and gendered modesty” felt productive in that it felt like something I could work with.

Last year, I shared my disdain about networking events on social media. The response from women was so great that I later hosted “anti-networking” events in Melbourne and Sydney for 300 women. The people who attended came away from these events with new relationships and a genuine surprise for the way in which they were able to connect with other women with no added pressure.

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