Rethink Networking

Why you should view networking as an essential leadership competency

Many of my coaching clients either say they don’t like networking, or they simply don’t have the time for it. They say things like:

“People who network contact me only when they want something.”

“Networking events are awful. They are full of people thrusting business cards into my hand while looking over my shoulder for someone who might be more useful.”

“I don’t have the time or the energy to network. At the end of the day all I want to do is get home to see my kids before they go to bed.”

In the light of such comments, it might be helpful to clarify what networking is not about.

It’s not about exchanging business cards, working a room, having unproductive lunch or coffee meetings, sucking up to important people or manipulating others for your own benefit.

What networking is about is building strategic business relationships as a core leadership competency.

Why bother?

Building a network of professional relationships enables you to:

  • Develop your leadership capacity by accessing diverse perspectives and relevant information from which you can gain new insights and make intelligent decisions.
  • Influence successfully within your industry/profession and across your organization.
  • Support others within your network of relationships.
  • Get the support you need to be even more successful in your current role.
  • Influence your career progression.
  • And gain energy and stimulation from interesting people.

Taking networking seriously as a core leadership competency can make the difference between :

Being a good leader who is stuck you your current role, to an excellent leader who is going places;

Being a member of a profession, and a respected leader of that profession;

Being a person whose sphere of influence is small, to a leader who is known and respected by many;

And being a person who thinks and acts strategically to manage your career, and someone who reacts to career opportunities if and when they come along.

If you have so far viewed networking as a “nice to do if I had the time” it would be wise to rethink your approach and view it as “an essential leadership attribute I need to master.”

How to take a more strategic approach

A reactive approach to networking goes something like: “I will set aside five hours per week to network.” This doesn’t usually work because you are creating a task out of a perceived need.

As soon as more immediate needs come along, this task drops off the end of your to-do list.

A more strategic approach is to create a diverse network of relationships as a way of life. This means you need to:

  • Be open and available to make contact with people around you, rather than burying your head in tasks.
  • Find ways to invest in and become an asset to others.
  • Dig your well before you’re thirsty – build your network of relationships through investing in others long before you need help or support from the people in your network.
  • Build relationships all the time, as a way of life. We all have opportunities to develop relationships every day, both inside and outside of our organizations – take them.
  • Be interested and interesting – building a network of relationships requires mutual connection where both parties are stimulated by the interaction.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself – women, in particular, have a reputation for putting others’ needs and interests before their own, which might be an admirable quality but will not result in mutual connections and a network of mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Be a connector – make introductions and bring individuals and groups together.
  • Join professional networks where you can make new contacts, be exposed to diverse thinking and build new friendships.
  • Follow through – reconnect and stay in touch with people.

In today’s organizations, building and maintaining networks of mutually beneficial professional relationships is the way we do business and progress our careers.

Just in case you hadn’t realized it – networking has become an essential leadership competency, not a “nice to do if I had the time.”

If you want more in-depth advice on how to build networks of strategic professional relationships, you will find a whole chapter on it in the book.

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50-50. Do we need quotas to guarantee balanced leadership?

imagesAre legislated quotas the only way, within our lifetime, to see a balance of women and men leading governments and organizations?

There are two sides to this hotly debated issue.

First, the naysayers point out that quotas are a form of reverse discrimination – the group now discriminated against (men) are previously the ones that did the discriminating (poor things).

Quotas for 50% women at the top of organizations therefore replaces one form of discrimination with another, and discrimination is a bad thing.

Second, the idea that women might be promoted based on their gender, rather than their ability to do the job, is offensive to many women and men.

“There is no appetite for quotas here,” commented Jacey Graham, co-director of a FTSE-100 cross-company mentoring program for women and the author of a recently published book on women in boardrooms in the U.K.. “There is an appetite to facilitate talented women coming through, but they must be seen to compete on the same terms as male colleagues,” she says.

On the other side of the fence stand those of us (yes, that includes me), who look at the evidence and conclude that quotas are the only way women will be equally represented at the top of organizations.

Women are currently 15.2% of Board Directors and 13.5% of Corporate Officers in Fortune 500 companies. The picture is similar in Canada and most parts of Europe. It’s worse in many other parts of the world.

What’s more, the rate of progress is glacial and shows no sign of speeding up.

Relying on the good sense of male dominated governments and organizations to grasp the excellent business case for gender balanced leadership is not working!

We have tried patience and waiting our turn; we continue to present research that shouts the benefits of more women in board rooms and executive suites – but it’s not working!

Ansgar Gabrielsen, Norwegian minister for trade and industry (2001-2004) was ahead of the game in realizing that such efforts were ineffective. In 2003,  he forced through legislation that now has Norway leading the world with over 40% women on the boards of publicly quoted companies.

He knew that this wouldn’t happen without the implementation of legislated quotas.

Other European countries, such as France and Spain, are now treading the same path to force companies to achieve gender balance at the top of organizations.

In India, the women’s reservation bill, has just passed the upper house imposing a 33% quota for women in India’s federal and state assemblies.

Quotas are not an elegant or sophisticated way to bring about change – but unfortunately they might be the only way.

I believe we should start with voluntary quotas for organizations to achieve a minimum 40% women in government, on boards and on senior executive teams with a reasonable time scale to make the change. If this doesn’t work, move straight to legislation to enforce it.

I’m in good company. Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada, comes to a similar conclusion in her excellent piece, Holding Half the Seats, published recently in  Newsweek.

What do you think? I’d love to know your views.

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Worlds Biggest Employers Still Losing Out On Female Talent.

corp-gender-coverThe World Economic Forum has just published its 2010 Corporate Gender Gap Report. It surveys 600 leading companies across 16 industries in 20 countries and explores women’s participation in business and companies’ adherence to gender equality policies.

The survey also asked respondents to identify the biggest barriers to women’s leadership and their opinion on the probable effects of the economic downturn on women’s employment in their countries and industries.

Some key findings:

  • Female employees are concentrated in entry or middle level positions and remain scarce in senior management or board positions in most countries and industries.
  • The average for women holding the CEO-level position was a little less than 5% among the 600 companies surveyed. Finland (13%), Norway (12%), Turkey (12%), Italy (11%) and Brazil (11%) have the highest percentage of women CEOs in this sample.
  • Although the problems of wage gaps between women and men are universally recognized, 72% of the companies surveyed do not attempt to track salary gaps at all.
  • Almost 40% of the companies surveyed claim to be setting specified targets, quotas or other affirmative policies to improve women’s participation in their structures.
  • The biggest barriers to women’s access to leadership positions identified by the respondents are “general norms and cultural practices”, “masculine or patriarchal corporate culture” and “lack of role models”.
  • The least important barriers are identified as “lack of adequate parental leave and benefits” and “inadequate labour laws and regulations”.
  • More than 30% of respondents in France, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom believe the economic downturn would be more harmful for women’s jobs in their country.

Zahidi Saadia, Co-author of the repor tand head of the Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme concludes:

“The findings of The Corporate Gender Gap Report are an alarm bell …that the corporate world is not doing enough to achieve gender equality. While a certain set of companies in Scandinavia, the US and the UK are indeed leaders in integrating women, the idea that most corporations have become gender-balanced or women-friendly is still a myth. With this study, we are giving businesses a one-stop guide on what they need to do to close the corporate gender gap.”

Download the full report:

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If Women Ruled The World

if women ruled the worldThere have been several recent articles extolling the virtues of women and fantasizing about how great the world would be if only we replaced male leaders with women.

In a scathing piece entitled A Nope for Pope, acid-tongued New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd suggests replacing the Pope with a nun, thus producing a “Nope.”

Washington Post article claims that the recent U.S. health care bill passed only because a woman (Nancy Pelosi) is now in a strong position of leadership as Speaker of the House.

And recently, New York Magazine asked What If Women Ran Wall Street?

It’s tempting to believe that female power would fix all our problems, from the Catholic Church to Wall Street, but in reality good leadership has nothing to do with gender. It’s not about women being better leaders than men, or visa versa, and it’s not helpful when the media frames it in this way.

What we need at the top of organizations is balanced leadership. Instead of 80-90% of organizations being led by men, we need leadership to be shared equally between men and women so that we have a much larger pool of talent from which to draw, and so that we benefit from diverse thinking and behavior.

I am passionately in favor of a world where men and women work together to lead more effectively. But glorifying women leaders and demonizing males will not get us there. What do you think?

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The Myth of the Level Playing Field

Why we still don’t have a woman in the White House or Chairing the Board

imagesDuring a recent speaking engagement at a well-known business school I was proudly informed by a university executive that he had recruited mainly women to his team. He clearly expected a pat on the back. I asked him how many women there were on the university executive committee – the answer was none. I was told not to worry, things were getting better and it was just a matter of time.

Because we see women running large companies and leading governments it’s easy to believe that women in positions of senior leadership is a non- issue. The playing field is now level and it’s just a matter of time before we get a balance of men and women at the top of organizations.

A level playing field is a concept about fairness. Not that every player has an equal chance to succeed, but that they all play by the same set of rules and have an equal ability to compete. In post-feminist 2010 many think that women and men have an equal ability to compete for the top jobs. If that’s the case, how come we still have so few women setting strategy and making decisions at the top of organizations?

Currently, whether it’s government, academia, non-profit or for-profit organizations, men are making most of the decisions. In North America around 85 percent of board and corporate officer positions are held by men in the top 500 companies. In the top 300 European companies, men hold around 90 percent of board director positions. The picture is little different in government and academia.

If the organizational playing field is level, why are the numbers of women in top jobs growing at a glacial rate, or not growing at all? The old arguments of not enough women in the executive pipeline, women not being genetically programmed to lead, and men being more committed and ambitious for power, no longer hold water.

Research reveals a global trend in the growing educational advantage of women achieving qualifications that should position them well for senior positions. Research also shows that men and women differ little in the traits and abilities that are most relevant to good leadership. And further,  that there is no difference between men and women being committed to their companies, and that the desire for power is equally strong between the sexes (even though men and women may manifest that power in different ways).

As to it being simply a matter of time – Catalyst, a research organization that works to ensure women’s advancement in the workplace, estimates that at the current rate of change it would take women at least another 47 years to reach parity with men as corporate officers of Fortune 500 companies. If the playing field is level, why must it take so long?

It’s true that women and men who compete for positions of senior leadership in organizations are subject to the same rules. The reason this doesn’t create a level playing field is that women do not have an equal ability to compete within these rules.

In my book, Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading In Today’s Organizations I talk in some depth about how the rules of senior leadership favor men and disadvantage women. I am confident that one day we will see a woman in the White House and see more women chairing boards. But not before we either change the rules to create a true level playing field or become even more skilled at recognizing the rules and succeeding within them.

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Women Still On The Wrong Path

Article from the Toronto Star

March 13, 2010

Donna Nebenzahl

Earlier this week, we marked International Women’s Day, celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.

What has been a snail’s pace record on every level is no less so in Canada, where recent reports show dismal progress for women aspiring to make a mark in the corporate world.

Two new studies from the Catalyst Foundation have indicated that gains remain minimal for women in this country with leadership potential; in every instance they are under-represented despite their qualifications and expertise.

Equality, it seems, is not on the agenda in corporate boardrooms. Findings this week from 2009 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors, showed that women hold 14 per cent of director positions in the FP500, an increase of only one percentage point in two years. The study also showed that nearly 45 per cent of public companies have no female board directors at all.

“In 2010, the argument that companies can’t find women to sit on boards simply doesn’t work,” said Deborah Gillis, Catalyst vice-president, North America. “Catalyst research shows that looking beyond company heads – 21 women currently lead FP500 companies – to the broader corporate officer pool expands by more than 30 times the number of qualified women available for board service.”

This ongoing lack of momentum, despite the studies indicating a strong correlation between women’s representation on boards and better financial performance, might have dire consequences. Gillis believes Canadian companies risk losing qualified women to multinationals now looking for female board members.

But the fractured playing field doesn’t exist only in Canada. Last month, Catalyst reported, as part of a study of thousands of women and men MBAs around the world, that women lag behind men in both job level and salary starting from their first position post-business school – and do not catch up.

The study showed that the common excuses of parenthood and level of aspiration did not explain the results; the findings held when considering women and men without children as well as those who aspired to senior leadership positions.

“The `Give it time,’ reasoning has run its course,” commented Ilene Lang, Catalyst president and CEO. “In a world where women comprise 40 per cent of the global workforce and are earning advanced and professional degrees in record numbers, gender inequity is a waste.”

Lang’s comments prompted another type of study, this one by international executive consultant Lynn Harris.

Founder of Harris, a Montreal-based leadership development consultancy, she had read an article several years ago in which Lang had once again criticized the dearth of women in leadership.

“I couldn’t believe we couldn’t answer the questions, so I started to research it,” Harris said. “As I suspected, it wasn’t that difficult to answer.”

The result is her recently published book Unwritten Rules: What Women Need to Know About Leading in Today’s Organizations.

After years working in the leadership field, Harris had come to realize the argument around women not having the right stuff to make it is a myth, but sexual stereotyping is alive and well.

“Senior leaders are expected to be competitive and assertive, but when a woman behaves that way she’s labelled a bitch. Assertive is aggressive for a woman.”

One unwritten rule is that senior leaders are expected to be available anytime and anywhere, to spend more than 10 hours daily in an office, to be geographically mobile.

“Everyone will recognize that,” she said, but women often don’t want to do that. They’re also expected, like men, to have a linear career path, in which their careers rev up when they’re in their 30s. But often, women need to have career break at that time, to have their children.

There are two ways of handling this, Harris says. “You could look at changing the playing field, at creating organizations and leaders like in Norway, where there are mechanisms in organizations that allow women to have a career break and come back without having their career path shattered.”

Then there’s the other way, in which women must develop “personal influencing skills,” the ability to promote themselves and mentoring, Harris says.

“They have to understand their environment in order to make real choices about their career.”

Finally, Harris examines the tough choices a woman must make in order to be a senior leader.

Once that first choice is made, some secondary ones will follow that may not be so pleasant, she cautions.

“The key message here is to consciously make clear choices, rather than be a victim of your circumstances.”


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The Invisible Woman

invisible womanMedia dominates our lives and strongly influences our views and opinions. Therefore it matters how we include and portray men and women in the media. With this in mind it’s somewhat shocking to read the preliminary report of the 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project released on March 2nd.

Among the key findings are:

  • 24% of the people interviewed, heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news are female; only 16% of all stories focus specifically on women.
  • Women have achieved near parity as givers of popular opinion in news stories. But less than one out of every five experts interviewed is female, and men predominate strongly as eyewitnesses and providers of personal experience in news stories.
  • Almost one half (48%) of all news stories reinforce gender stereotypes, while 8% of news stories challenge gender stereotypes. Women in the news are identified by their familial relationships (wife, mother, daughter) five times more often than men.
  • Overall, news stories by female reporters are much fewer than news stories by male reporters.
  • News stories by female reporters have considerably more female news subjects than stories by male reporters and challenge gender stereotypes almost twice as often as stories by male reporters.

The study reveals overall that women remain grossly underrepresented in news coverage in contrast to men, resulting in news that reinforces sex role stereotypes and often portrays women as invisible.

This report needs to be taken seriously by media managers. I have cut and pasted the key findings above and sent e-mails to the following media managers, asking what they intend to do to report more gender balanced and gender responsive news. If you feel strongly about this it would be great if you could contact your local media and do the same. Let’s not just moan about this situation – let’s do something about it.

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The Confidence Factor

we can do itThe feminization of the work force gives us an opportunity to create work environments that value a balance between what men and women bring to the table. But it does require women to step up to the plate, be courageous and take some risks.

Former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan, a wise man and promoter of women’s equality, once told a story that illustrates how women often lack self-confidence.  When confronted on why there were not more women in top civil service UN jobs, he said:

“I’ve always been interested in seeing talented colleagues move up, and in my experience, many of them are women. So, whenever an opening for a promotion was advertised, I often said to a talented person, ‘You should apply for this job’.

“Women almost universally told me they weren’t experienced enough or didn’t have sufficient background. I never had a man say anything but ‘Thank you, I will apply’.”(Story from ‘Women Lead the Way’ by Linda Tarr-Whelan)

As women, our behavior is shaped by messages we receive throughout our lives. It’s socially acceptable for us to be modest and understated. We are encouraged in many subtle and not so subtle ways to play a supporting rather than a leading role. It’s perfectly understandable why many women don’t have the confidence to step outside these norms of behavior and apply for bigger leadership roles.

The problem is, the world desperately needs more women to join men at the top of organizations to create more balanced decision-making, creativity, and innovation. It’s time to rethink the messages about what is socially acceptable behavior for women. Just imagine how great it will be when women are universally admired for being clear, direct, decisive and confident, instead of being criticized for being pushy and self-promoting.

In the meantime, if you are the proud owner of a little voice that whispers unhelpful comments like, “I’m not experienced enough,” or “I couldn’t do that,” try recognizing it for what it is – an imaginary fear that stops you trying new things. Next time someone suggests you for a new job, ignore the thought that you don’t have sufficient background and just say, “thank you, I will apply.”

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Best Jobs Women Haven’t Discovered

AT4594It’s not news that we still have a gender pay gap – men are still earning more than women doing similar or equivalent jobs. One creative way that women might put their earnings on a par with men is to make different career choices. Perhaps it’s time to be more intentional about invading well-paid jobs that are traditionally held by men.

ForbesWoman recently created a list of the best-paying jobs women aren’t in–but should be. Who knew that detectives and criminal investigators were so well-paid and had such a low percentage of women?

We all hold biases, often unconsciously, about jobs that are suitable for men and women. That’s how we perpetuate sex-role stereotyping. So why not suggest to our daughters, as well as our sons, that they consider becoming an engineer, or an architect, a pilot or a criminal investigator? Why shouldn’t we have more female engineers and train drivers?

Perhaps you are ready for a career change yourself. Ever thought of being a chiropractor or railroad conductor? If we look at the low percentages of women in these traditional male jobs it’s obvious that there’s a lot of opportunity out there to break a few moulds and confront a lot of stereotypes — as well as earning a good salary of course.



Median Weekly Earnings of Both Sexes

Percent Female


Chief executives








Aircraft pilots and flight engineers




First-line supervisors/managers of fire fighting and preventing workers




Locomotive engineers and operators




Computer programmers




First-line supervisors/managers of police and detectives




Network systems and data communications analysts




Architects, except naval




Railroad conductors and yardmasters




Cost estimators




Detectives and criminal investigators




Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators




Fire fighters








Power plant operators, distributors and dispatchers




First-line supervisors/managers of construction and extraction workers




First-line supervisors/managers of mechanics, installers and repairers




Crane and tower operators




Aircraft mechanics and service technicians



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Mind The (Pay) Gap

imagesI read so much about the difficulties women encounter in the workplace that sometimes I feel we spend too much time highlighting the problems and not enough time proposing positive action to improve situations. I was heartened, therefore, to discover the measures underway in the U.K. to close the gender pay gap.

No one these days believes that it’s justifiable to pay men more than women when they are doing similar kinds of work. The fact that in most industries and professions this is still an issue is offensive and unfair.

In the spring of 2009 the U.K. Government asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to help improve gender pay transparency in the private sector and to propose ways to measure and share information on the differences between men’s and women’s pay. This is an important step in the right direction. To bring about positive change we need to raise awareness of the reality of current inequities.

The EHRC has now published its detailed recommendations and what these would mean for employers if they were accepted. In summary, the EHRC recommends that employers find out and disclose:

  • The single figure difference between the median hourly earnings of men and women
  • The difference between men and women’s pay by grade and job type
  • The difference between men and women’s starting salaries

These recommendations are still on the table and continue to be debated in the House of Lords (predominantly men) and then need to be implemented by organizational leaders (predominantly men). Call me naive and optimistic, but it seems to be a significant step in the right direction and I’m hopeful that it will lead to pay equity for women. What do you think?

Download the full report: Equality and Human Rights Commission: Proposals for measuring and publishing information on the gender pay gap.

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