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Look for Networks, not for Work

Why the richest people don’t look for work

This week an interesting headline from Harvard Business Review caught my eye. “Why ‘Network More’ Is Bad Advice for Women” it blared. The article, by Sarah Green, starts out with:

When well-meaning people give advice to young women about how to get ahead, networking is almost always at the top of the list. Make connections; get outside your comfort zone; don’t just build relationships, focus on your business. Find a mentor — no, a sponsor! — and if your company doesn’t already have a women’s network, start one.

A new study suggests that perhaps this network-your-way-to-the-top advice is, for women, a tad overblown.

Naturally, I was intrigued since I believe that networking is essential for the success of women in business.

According to the study, which focused on Wall Street analysts, men and women had the same amount of contacts, but men got more out of their contacts than women did.

As Green goes on to write, “This is also not the first study to show that there are aspects of the standard (eg, male) playbook that don’t seem to work for women,” and towards the end of the piece, she looks at standard career advice for ambitious women and men, like go to a good school, get an MBA, and get a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. In the end, she concludes, “…we need to stop telling women to follow a male playbook. It doesn’t work for women.”

In some ways, I understand where Green is coming from, but unfortunately, I think she misses the bigger picture. Her advice, after all, is focused on women who are following one path—that of a high-paid employee.

Perhaps it’s true that the male playbook doesn’t work in workplaces and industries mostly controlled and dominated by men. But the greater tragedy is that most women think they can only achieve success by following the male playbook of a working up the chain in a corporation.

In my experience, the richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work.

One interesting bit of insight Green’s article offers is this: women who were networked with executives had better outcomes. However, men with the same types of connections had even better outcomes, “suggesting that men are much more willing to help other men” than women are willing to help other women.

In thinking through all this, I came up with a couple thoughts I want to share with you.

#1 – Women don’t need to network more; we need to network better

That women networked with executives and had better outcomes is no surprise to me. Often networking can be just another word for socializing. True networking, however, means making the right connections in the right way for the most benefit. One important thing to do is to actively pay attention to your network and to “prune” and “plant” as necessary. Always work at spending your energy and time where it will pay off the most.

#2 – Women need to invest in each other’s success

It’s true. Because the workplace is so competitive for women, there can be a lot less cooperation. Unfortunately, this is especially true of high-paid employees who see the business world as one of scarcity. There are, after all, only a few positions available and a lot of women vying for them.

One of the things I love about being an entrepreneur is that I don’t compete for position. This has allowed me to network with many great men and women who are invested in my success as much as I’m invested in theirs. But regardless of your career path, women, we need to have each other’s backs! If we want to get ahead, we need each other.

#3 – Get a new game!

If it’s true that the men’s playbook doesn’t work for women in the high-stakes world of consulting and investment firms, perhaps it’s time to not get a new playbook but instead a new game.

If you want to be a CEO, stop climbing the corporate ladder. Start your own company! The world, contrary to popular belief is not filled with scarcity. Rather it’s filled with abundance! And those willing to go out and grab what’s out there can make the rules as they go.

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Original publish date: March 05, 2015

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