Starting off in a new city, new career or new company can be scary. Being a female in the workforce which has been dominated by men for as long as we can remember makes it even more difficult to see a positive future for ourselves. The fear of gender discrimination, being alone on your path, and out of your comfort zone can hinder you from personal and professional growth. In addition, branching out and meeting people or new connections can be tiring and make you feel helpless. However, this fear of being removed from inner circles in your city or job can be used to create a more vast network.
Some say that when we are feeling out of our element, we are actually bursting out of our shell and outgrowing our typical environment. We can use this thought process to recognize that we may be uncomfortable but we are also the strongest we have ever been. Here are some tips to make it easier to handle the intimidating factors of growing your personal and professional network!
1. Do Things You Normally Wouldn’t
We are a very routine-based species. We get into a groove of our daily schedules that we forget there is more out in the world than your typical activities. Join groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that you are interested in. Search things like “women’s networking groups” or “startup entrepreneurs”.
Go to the events published even if they don’t seem like your cup of tea. Talk to people in the coffee shop to see if anything is going on that day. Improv Night? Food and Wine Festival? Open Mic? Public Lecture? Say yes to everything. Your opportunities to talk with different people are endless if you give yourself the chance to meet them.
2. Know What You Want To Learn
Choose a few people who you really want to connect with. By trying to meet every single person in a room you will spread yourself too thin and not retain any real relationships. Decide the people and know exactly what you want to ask.
Sometimes we go into a conversation with no real direction that we want to take it. In a professional environment, this is usually a mistake. The people you want to talk to, especially those who are higher up than you in a company, want to know that you care and have paid some attention to the things they specialize in. Research about that person if you know they will be at the event you are going to, and approach them with confidence and eagerness to learn.
If you know the CEO of a professional women’s organization will be speaking at an event you are going to, look at their LinkedIn page and the company website. Learn their story and how you can relate to their mission statement. An interview can happen at any time and you don’t know what job opportunities may come your way if you impress someone with your attentiveness to details.
3. Be Ambitious
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to express the ideas you have about your career or dreams to someone that you usually wouldn’t talk about. Finding people with ambitions that mirror yours is important.
Talk to the people higher up than you about the things you think could help the company grow. Spark conversation about things that aren’t normally discussed. Start a professional women’s group on Facebook that can be used as a platform for female professionals to connect and exchange important networking tools or tips.
Be bold. No one went anywhere far without a sense of ambition.
4. Get A Grip
You are not going to click with every person in the city, especially if you are spreading yourself too thin trying to talk to everyone. Be aware that along the way you will probably have to adjust your networking focus.
You really thought going to the coffee shop that a lot of people go to on the way to work would bring you a lot of connections. However, you are finding the people to always be in a rush and no deeper level of connection has developed. Understand that sometimes you just won’t connect with some people, but don’t ever give up!
Grab a drink at the bar with your coworkers after work, go to that improv night, bring donuts for the office. Change things up so that you can spark conversation in a way that benefits you.
5. Speak up!
Too often do we feel that we don’t have a voice in certain conversations. We are afraid that we won’t be heard because our opinions don’t matter to someone or that we will say the wrong thing. That stops now.
As females we are the backbone of this world and we should start acting like it. Say what you think and stand tall in adversity. Don’t back down when a person challenges you, feed them your thoughts and consider theirs.
The best way to grow your professional women’s network is to begin treating yourself as the respectable female boss that you are and who people will want to know.
For example, if you attend a public lecture and the speaker opens up the floor for questions, ask! Your question may strike a chord with another audience member who was too afraid to ask and may come up to talk to you after the lecture ends or maybe the speaker will be intrigued to hear more about your thoughts!
The worst thing that can happen when you speak up and ask a question or voice an opinion is that you will learn something or gain new perspective. By saying what you are thinking you have the opportunity to not only be heard, but related to by some other professionals who respect your bold approach to topics of interest.
6. Listen, Follow-Up, Give Back
A very common mistake that we make, especially inexperienced and young females, trying to grow our women’s professional network is not listening well enough.
In a professional conversation, or any conversation for that matter, nobody wants to a person talk about themselves the whole time. Everyone loves talking about themselves, so instead of you focusing the conversation on yourself, you should ask the person about what their story is so it shows you have a genuine interest in their life.
Give back to these people also by helping them out when they need it. Sometimes a person will need a favor from you that you specialize in once you establish a base relationship. Help them out because then you will be the first person they will want to name drop to someone who needs someone in your field for a job.
Finally, follow up with someone after you meet them even if you didn’t establish a great connection at first. Take their information (e.g. business card) once you meet them and then don’t wait! Take the initiative to send an email or call their office.
Your diligence will be appreciated and most of the time professionals have a hard time remembering all of the people they meet and need a refresher anyway.
7. Grow Your Professional Women’s Network Your Way
Do not let anything stop you from making your dreams come true. Follow your heart and you will meet some of the best people you could hope to connect with in places you would even think to network at. Own your life.
Women’s networking groups are powerful tools to get where you need to go. Join leagues of women who look to break down gender-discriminatory walls in the workforce and strive to be the dominating factor in the future of companies and business.
By being alongside females, you will be able to relate to and support each other in ways that will put you in the best position to succeed.