When I started my internet company, I knew all about the old boys network from my days in the music business. Back then, there were so few women in music management positions that we tended to avoid each other because we perceived other women as the competition.
A few years later, with just as few women heading technology companies, I formed my own women's networking organization, Webgrrls International, to bring women together in cooperation instead of competition.
Lynda McDermott, 57, president of EquiPro International, a management consulting firm, admits she ignored other women early in her career.
"Most of the networking I did [then] was with men. Not many women were in decision-making or buying roles, so it seemed like a waste of time to network with them," McDermott says. Today, although she still works with men, the majority of McDermott's networking time is devoted to women.
"Men who want to get ahead know that they have to network," McDermott says. "Women want to subscribe to what I call the 'field of dreams myth'--that is, do good work and success will come to you." McDermott rejects that approach. "If you want to be a player, you've got to be in the game," she says.
Jennifer Kluge, 36, has done her share of networking as president of the National Association for Business Resources, a trade association representing small and medium-size businesses.
Kluge doesn't recall a lot of formal networking among women in business 10 years ago, though she remembers doing so informally. "Those of us who were very career-bound and worked in the for-profit world banded together and helped each other," she says.
Today, networking among women is more organized, Kluge says.
"When a new woman executive comes to [town], we hold a breakfast or lunch to introduce her to other leaders," she explains. "We actively find ways to engage her in the business of our state--the nonprofits or the leadership activities that make change happen."
Marti Barletta, author and founder of The TrendSight Group, says men and women definitely network differently.
"Women are not perceived to network as well as men despite their interest in people and relationships," Barletta says. She reasons that women place such a high value on social relationships and friendships that they don't want to take advantage of those relationships or have people feel obligated to them. Barletta also points out that women tend to support each other in business through referrals rather than working directly with their friends, while men think of networking as exchanging business-building opportunities.
"Women attend networking events not just for the business connection but to connect on other levels and to build community and commonality," Barletta says. "This often leads to a level of comfort where they can create referrals, although it may not lead directly to a deal for them. That degree of comfort is very important because, when she makes a referral, her reputation is on the line."
Advises Kluge, "Connect with those women who reflect your values, beliefs and business philosophy. Ignore those women who only want something from you and do not understand the give and take of working relationships."
Says McDermott, "I rarely turn down a request to at least talk with someone on the phone. When you generously give of your time or wisdom, the universe is poised to return the favor."