Next week is our major conference, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (www.gracehopper.org), so I’ve got networking on the brain. The main goal of this technical conference is to provide women in technology with broad opportunities for increasing their visibility, networking, breaking feelings of isolation, role models and building community.
Previous research has shown that women in technology are less likely to have access to social networks at work and more likely to feel isolated. Yet, these networks ties are essential for career advancement.
I dove into the networking habits of Silicon Valley technology employees from our dataset of 1,795 technical men and women, and here’s what I am finding out:
– Technical men are significantly more likely to report that they take coffee breaks or other breaks with colleagues several times a week or more (41%) than women (31%). If a lot of connections, insider info, and innovation happen at the “water-cooler/coffee machine,” then women are losing out.
– Similarly, 66% of technical men report that they take the time to chat around the office with colleagues several times a week or daily, compared to 54% of technical women.
– 13.7% of men versus 6.4% of women report that they play sports or games with colleagues a few times a month or more.
What drives this difference? Think of it as a vicious cycle – people are more comfortable networking with people who are like them, so when you are the odd woman out in an organization which is predominantly male, you get fewer opportunities to naturally network. Which in turns further discourages you from reaching out to your peers. Which leads to feelings of exclusion, less access to critical information, fewer mentors, and fewer career opportunities. Being pro-active about networking when you are the minority is also more awkward, because you have fewer things in common with those you are trying to network with. I once talked to a young technical woman who was spending her free time reading up on football, even if she personally did not care for the sport, because she had figured out that it was the ticket to starting a conversation and “fitting in” within her department. Some networking activities can also feel non-inclusive – one of my colleagues worked in a high-tech company where networking and significant business dealings at an annual conferences happened in a strip club. For another colleague, it was late-night poker and cigar smoking.
So, what’s a woman in technology to do? Jo Miller, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, answered that question on our website recently. Miller advises treating networking as a critical part of one’s work and figuring out the norms that hold networks together http://anitaborg.org/news/archive/ask-jo-how-can-i-break-into-male-networks/. Jo also featured a column emphasizing that you do not need to network with everyone to maximize your network – she highlights 5 types of people you should target to include in your network http://anitaborg.org/news/archive/ask-jo-6. I also love the Grace Hopper blog’s advice on networking tips for introverts http://ghcbloggers.blogspot.com/2009/09/on-being-shy-connector.html. Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, also shared her advice on our site and discusses how her network was instrumental in getting her nominated to the Microsoft Board. (http://techher.blogspot.com/2009/07/network-network-network-by-guest.html
Finally, it goes without saying that a company where all the networking happens through non-inclusive activities is sending a red flag in terms of how serious it is about attracting and retaining diverse talent.