Networking. Career books and business schools emphasize it as one of the most important ways to get ahead. Networking is how people get their foot in the door for jobs and how partnerships are developed. Who we know can be more valuable than what we know. Research shows the importance of who you know can be influential starting even in childhood. The childhood environment of kids with similar math scores has a significant impact on the likelihood of kids becoming adult inventors. The importance of who you know carries throughout our lives. The opening of the networking door facilitates the progress of some while hindering that of others.
Leaning Into Networking
I lean into networking – I enjoy connecting with people and have found many of the connections I’ve made to be useful. I used to find in-person networking challenging. However, resources such as this podcast taught me tips to make it easier. Over the course of my career, I have requested many informational interviews. I was at first surprised by the high rate of acceptance of my requests. Now, as someone who has had many people request interviews of me, I recognize the two-way value of asking for and agreeing to networking requests.
All the White Men
In a year when racial wealth inequality has gained prominence, I became aware that almost all of the requests that I receive for networking calls come from white men. I was predisposed to help, but was a bit concerned. Is sharing information with these men and connecting these men further in my network part of what led to the racial inequities I try to reduce via sustainable investing? It seems the answer is, Yes. Dr. Katherine Milkman, a professor at Wharton who studies judgment and decision-making, stated: “The thing is, every time we offer help to one person, that’s actually harming all the people who aren’t receiving help. If one person gets a leg up, that’s a leg down for whomever else is competing for those opportunities.”
This awareness left me with two questions:
- Why are the majority of my requests from white men?
- What can be done to open the door to more women and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)?
Why Networking is Harder for Women and BIPOC
Research has shown that women network differently than men. Women give greater consideration to relational morality i.e. they hesitate to use their networks to their own advantage while not knowing whether they are able to return favors align with and extend previous knowledge on networking. Women are also more likely to struggle with “gendered modesty” – having a lack of faith in their own abilities to make valuable contributions to their networks. COVD-19 has worsened the problem. With schools and daycares closed, many women are reducing work hours to care for children. Being the caretaker leaves less opportunity for Zoom networking calls.
The “likes attract” principle influences networking. It is part of the foundation of the “good old boy” network that has benefitted white men. Reaching out to people who are of a different race, gender, or place in their careers is challenging for many people. The need for Black people to “code switch” when reaching out to White people can be exhausting. Nancy DiTomaso, the author of The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism, observed that “Ninety-nine percent of my interviewees received 70% of the jobs they held over their lifetimes with the extra help of friends or family members.” The majority of white-collar jobs are held by white people and white men in particular. White men dominate executive and managerial roles. Therefore, the likelihood of a BIPOC knowing people, and people with significant influence, within organizations is lower.
What Can Be Done to Open the Networking door?
I don’t have a global solution to make networking more inclusive. However, here are a few things I have committed to doing next year to do my part on a personal level:
- Take a deep look at my network and see how/where I can expand and diversify it
- When white men connect with me, I will ask them to return the favor by facilitating future connections for women and BIPOC.
- Increase my engagement with networks for women and BIPOC
- Give extra effort to a woman or BIPOC who reaches out to me.
Photos by Cyrus Gomez, Pedro Ramos