Dear Antonia…

Hi Antonia

I hope you are well.

Just wanted to share my concerns with a successful women who I hope will understand my frustration.

I have noticed a number of articles recently, some disappointingly written by female journalists, that seem to not only reinforce ancient gender stereotypes – ‘women are not natural networkers’, but more importantly, inadvertently discredit women’s natural business potential by reinforcing associations between female success and  adoption of ‘masculine’ behaviours- we must ‘start schmoozing like men’.

I am tired of reading about femininity being a hindrance in business ‘you need to change your female mindset’. Tired of reading articles that seem to identify the primary cause of women being the second-rate enterprise gender as exactly that, the fact that they are female. As though our sexuality is a disability in business that we need to camouflage with testosterone in order to succeed.

I am worried about the way these powerful media messages will shape my younger sisters’ worldviews.

For that reason, I feel urged to e-mail you. You are a prominent woman in the UK’s media world and I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on your article (and the wider issues it addresses) which I read yesterday on The Times Online.

Interestingly it was filed in the Life and Style section as oppose to the Business section of the site.

REF: ARTICLE

On top of the perhaps necessary controversial headline ‘Why Women Are Such Bad Networkers’, skim reading the first few paragraphs results in this visual summary:

Why women are such bad networkers: it’s no good thinking hard work will get you anywhere…you have to start schmoozing like men. The champagne is not working. Women are not natural networkers. “It’s a complete scandal” Gordon Brown agrees...

Not a pretty picture. Why do we need to behave like men in order to be successful? We are not natural networkers… I totally disagree! We are relationship builders through and through! We connect with people, we nurture and sustain relationships, we tell great stories, we really listen

In the article, gender inequality, particularly in the corporate world, is highlighted, and of course necessarily so, because it is a massive issue, and we all know the playing field is far from even, especially in the board rooms and top half of Corporate UK. But to attribute this inequality of success to the ‘fairer’ sex not being male or manly enough (something none of us should want to change) is reinforced sexism and innately wrong.

We as women, can embrace our femininity and individualism be extremely successful in business without acting like men. I will not reel off real life examples, you mention some in your article and I am sure many names come to mind.

Sweeping generalisations are also made (some are from quotes and are not your own words) without reference to statistics or ratios – ‘Women tend to lack social capital’ and “Women do their jobs in a quiet professional manner and don’t tell everybody what a good job they are doing”. This is far from true in my workplace!

The article discusses networking and its value in the climb to the top. However a clear definition of networking is not provided. Networking is loosely defined as an altruistic activity- ‘it’s about forming relationships that can be used to help others, and get help in return’. Why?! Do we need to do this to ‘sell’ networking to women? Are we that selfless a gender?!

Networking is about forming mutually beneficial professional relationships and finding the people you need to get the resources you require. It is not always about a giving transaction. That is ok. Women can cope with that! Networking is also not isolated to formalised events, it can take place in an elevator as often, if not more, as over supplied champagne and vol-au-vents.

“You insert yourself at a given point, spray your card around and meet people. Then you invite them on to something else. You have to be so disciplined with yourself. I carry a notebook around with me, always”

The importance of networking and building and banking social capital (especially via social media) are also highlighted. Great. The problem is that suggestions made for women to address their inability and also get noticed at work include “volunteering within your organisation, setting up some charitable initiative that gets you noticed”. Volunteering or setting up a charitable initiative– why? Again an altruistic focus. This is business not the DoE. Perhaps because we wouldn’t possibly want to hold a conversation about football? Chats about footy / darts take an awful lot less effort and organising! I personally would rather read the back pages of the Metro to be honest.

Reinforcing gender stereotypes? Yes. Maybe some suggestions about cross-gender networking above ‘sharing war stories’ would have been less patronising and more helpful?

In the same space, the referral to charity work and volunteering baffles me no end. This is an article about businesswomen, social capital, networking; its importance and benefits, gender comparisons in techniques and what women can do to enhance their networking skills isn’t it?! No wait, then I remember the title! Why are we mentioning doing things for others, and for free so much?

I know there is research behind the generalisations and statements made and that isn’t what worries me. What worries me is the overriding notion that we as women are at a genetic disadvantage when it comes to building networks, climbing ladders and selling ourselves, and that in order to  overcome our gender disability we need to further emphasis it through the traditional altruistic behaviours associated to womanhood OR deny it by adopting ‘unnatural’ male behaviours.

I passionately believe that something needs to be done about the fact that women are being told time and time again that they are naturally too feminine to achieve success equal to men in business environments. The solution to this issue does not lie in women being willing to do as men do or play up to out-of-date female stereotypes.

The solution is more likely to lie in individual businesswomen learning about and harnessing their individual strengths, identifying and building on their individual weaknesses, learning, improving and exploiting every transferable business skill (including networking) that there is in the book, confidently presenting their abilities, seeing themselves as equals, working damn hard and being the best at what they do. (This is of course not an exhaustive solution, I know the situation is an awful lot more complex, as your article suggests).

You are in the position to do something about this! To promote the benefits of being a woman and perhaps more importantly, an individual in business and using what skills and traits we often have as women – intuition, compassion, understanding, balance etc as well as all of our individual differences (we are all women and of course all individuals) to succeed in the corporate world.

Also I would really like to know about your personal journey of success so far, have you written about this? Could you please send me a link if so?

In closing I would like to let you know that I had such a fantastic International Women’s Day on Monday. I spent the day schmoozing and networking like the Networking Queen that I am at the Stepping Into Success Conference held by Women Unlimited at British Library with over 200 other female entrepreneurs / businesswomen who are doing pretty damn well in the enterprise / business sector despite their breasts and female mindsets!

I also live- tweeted from the event, letting my social network on Twitter know all about what I was doing for my business’s benefit. You can check out the tweets from the day (and many of the attendees) using this hash tag #WUC . I couldn’t find you on Twitter though Antonia. Are you tweeting? If not you really should! It’s great for networking / business.

Thank you very much for writing the article and for getting this much-needed conversation started.

Thank you also for taking the time to read this e-mail, I am sure as the Deputy Business Editor of The Times you are ridiculously busy!

I look forward to receiving your response.

Warm regards

Naomi Jane

(Sent via e-mail to Antonia on Friday 11th March 2010)

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About Naomi Jane
Not your average Jane

5 Responses to Dear Antonia…

  1. Lorelei Gibb says:

    Fantastic Naomi, and a hearty “hear hear” from me! It amazes me that there is still so much inequality in our society. Somehow, it is still “ok” to point out women’s “failures” especially in business and as mother’s – damned if we do, damned if we don’t. You change this headline to “Why Ethnic Minorities are such bad networkers”, or “Christians”, or “Disabled people” and there would be public outrage, but it is still culturally acceptable to treat women as an inferior, and seperate, species! Why?

  2. Gina Romero says:

    Fantastic responses from you and Julie Hall @womenunlimited and Nancy Williams @TigerTwo

    I had a rant about it too:

    It seems that headline of the (original) article has confused the issue from the offset.

    Are we talking about the aggressive tactics of corporate ladder climbing or women’s inability to network? The headline suggests the latter however the content covers networking in the broader sense. In my humble opinion the article merges two very separate issues into one.

    Sadly we can’t argue the stats that so few women reach the top of the world’s largest corporations, but that is a debate on the women and the glass ceiling and not on networking. I don’t profess to be an expert in this area, however as this comment thread highlights, it is a sensitive issue and there is still much work to be done in terms of finding the right balance.

    My definition of networking however is creating connections with people to build long term relationships for mutual benefit and success. There is no argument whatsoever that woman are naturally excellent at this, in the social and business sense. Women that have never even heard of the term networking do it brilliantly without even realising it.

    We may not (as a general rule) be as good at blowing our own trumpets as our male counterparts but we make up for it by being fantastic at raising each others profiles, providing support and inspiration (and being open to it) and collaborating. This is a clear example of how as women, we can be outstandingly successful by leveraging our strengths rather than trying to emulate the competitive techniques that work better for men.

    I agree that some women are not comfortable in the testosterone driven male dominated networking world. That said, neither are some men. I don’t lack confidence but I do need to be in the right environment. There are a number of different networking platforms – informal, structured, social both online and offline. Everybody will have a different style of networking that suits their personality and regardless of your gender; one of the important factors for networking success is to attend the right networking events.

    Ideally this should be with a group of likeminded people, where you feel comfortable and you can be yourself. When we are authentic it is easy and fun to build relationships that have integrity and therefore long term value. Make sure you have a well thought out strategy, follow through with disciplined execution and have a genuine desire to help others.

    And yes networking can also be about asking for what you want from others, but first you have to earn the right to ask for it by proving your ability to deliver.

    Most importantly – networking should be fun. If you aren’t enjoying your networking activities AND getting fantastic results then talk to me

    Please click here for my full response:

    http://ow.ly/1iiJc

    Happy networking! @gina_romero

  3. faydonline says:

    I agree with much of the above written and I feel the point made regards to changing the title, would definitely ring alarm bells. If the title was race specific one would align the writer with a certain far right group. But I am always interested in how people substantiate there argument.

    I personally feel the writer looked at one particular aspect of networking and compounded by the above point about the right environment.

    As mentioned above the article highlights the glass ceiling within many corporations and this issue does not appear to be global. The issue is not gender but it is society. Please read the second page:

    http://www.crm-daily.com/story.xhtml?story_id=00200088KXKM&full_skip=1

    “Half of the deputy governors at the Reserve Bank of India are women”

    With regards to the comments about social networks, where do I start but aside the issue of being sexualised prior to even saying a word!!!

    To deduce if you accept the Antonia article that article they are accepting that business is a male patriarchal concept, which is allergic to femininity…watch me prove you wrong

    http://www.women-unlimited.co.uk/are-women-poor-networkers/comment-page-1/#comment-17987

    Women Unlimited already have.

  4. Currently writing about this myself I am first of all happy to know that the women in media I have been discussing this with and myself are not alone! In our 20s we are finding our piers some that we have even helped build a career dismiss us to work with their fellow species. We are just as creative and just as talented if not more in some cases, the answer isn’t to act like men, we have decided to for a circle of women in media and are currently working on projects together, the first step is women sticking together, if we don’t…how will things ever change for the sake of equality in the business?

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