As a business owner, it’s so important for me to network. Not only do I love meeting new people, but sometimes these people can also pan out to be wonderful clients and connections. A lot of the time I use these connections to help others. I’ve joined various meetup.com groups, a private club, and attend several large networking functions a year. While I’ve surfaced with a few rare gems, I find that as a woman, these large events can kind of suck.
The Meat Market
There’s something about networking functions that can seem so icky. You’re thrust into a crowded room with a drink ticket and a name-tag. Sometimes the tags are color coded by industry but I find that this rarely helps. A lot of people dive in looking for clients, like this is a do or die situation and the desperation hangs about them like a musty cloud. If you aren’t who they are looking for they won’t waste much time talking to you before they move onto someone who looks more like their speed. If you’re talking to someone who could be potential clients for both of you, they’ll do their best to get the point across that they’re a better fit.
It’s pretty obnoxious.
Because it can be a bit overwhelming, I tend to grab a drink first and do a brief survey of the room. I’m almost always approached shortly thereafter, or find someone near by to chat with while I attempt to drink in the rest of the room. I never attend a networking event with a goal in mind, other than to meet people and make connections. It tends to work in my favor, as I don’t come off like a shark circling its prey.
Sometimes I’ll try to chat with as many people as possible, other times I’ll stick by a few people if I don’t desire to work the room. I always swap business cards with who I talk to even if it’s just for a couple minutes, because when it comes to the business world, you really never know.
My problem with being a woman in the networking space isn’t always at the actual event itself. It usually lies in the aftermath—the follow-up. It lies in the email, or text message I receive from a man, asking to get dinner or drinks and, “discuss business.”
I almost always can’t determine whether or not they actually want to talk business or if they are trying to land a date.
Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I am attractive. Yes, I am confident. Yes, I present myself as easy to talk to at these functions. I’m forcibly friendly at the moments when I’m the least interested in what someone else is saying. I don’t believe I’m flirty, but I’m sure that leaves room for interpretation since some people mistake kindness for interest. I discuss both of my businesses, my accomplishments, and my goals for the companies. I don’t discuss anything personal and I don’t lead conversations with, “Oh, just so you know, I’m not single.” Because I feel like it would be out of place and uncalled for if I led with that.
I am a woman attending a business networking function where people go to meet potential clients and contacts. Not dates. Right?
In a prior draft of this article, I went on a rant about how I’m pretty appalled that this is even something we, as women, in the business world should even have to deal with in the first place. To be honest, I’m not sure if this issue happens because we’re not taken seriously or if men think it’s a good place to pick up strong, confident, ambitious chicks. Regardless, it’s annoying, so here are 4 ways to combat the meat market nightmare that is networking for women.
1. Join/attend more women’s only groups/events.
Sure, this may seem like a way of avoiding the issue altogether (okay, it kind of is) but women’s networking groups are pretty badass. Every woman’s group I’ve been in has been hugely helpful and some amazing things have happened. From opening up their Rolodex to me, brain storming, passing on my info to a potential client, to offering free advice—I always leave feeling incredibly productive. Oh yeah, and no one thus far has tried to date me.
Bonus: In this setting you can let your guard down a bit and even share some personal things. You’d be amazed at the multi-purpose friendships you can make.
2. Don’t go to the pseudo date.
Unless I can absolutely see myself doing business with this person, or feel that they have incredible value to be connected to, I tend to blow off these invitations. I’m not about to profess that I’m uninterested in dating them, or that I’m attached when they’ve hidden under the guise of business and haven’t outright asked me out. That would make me look like a presumptuous asshole and the way they have already worded it makes it so they can easily backpedal. They can say that I’m mistaken. They can say that they were purely interested in business.
Even if there’s a stretch that we could—maybe—work together, I’m not about to put myself in the position where I unintentionally find myself on a date of some sorts, because the discomfort is never an even trade-off.
I’ve found that if a man is genuinely interested in doing business with me, that’s what they lead with. They don’t try to corner me into a pseudo date.
3. Keep it moving.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made at one of these networking functions is that I didn’t work the room. Instead I’d get comfortable chatting to one or two people and spend the majority of the night in their vicinity. Big no, no. While I don’t expect to land a client at one of these things, the goal is to make contacts. As many useful contacts as I can.
As you meet people, firmly shake their hand, look them in the eye, swap elevator pitches—and if it makes sense, swap cards. Then move on.
4. Stand up.
Someone makes a sexist comment or cracks a joke you find distasteful? Stand up to them, dish one back, or excuse yourself and walk away. You don’t have to take that shit. If someone dishes out a compliment that makes you feel uncomfortable or asks you out on a date, let them know that you are there for professional purposes only, and again, excuse yourself and walk away.
You shouldn’t have to wear a sign that screams, “NOT INTERESTED!” whether you are single or attached. These tips aren’t to ignore the fact that you shouldn’t have to put up with being hit on, and if this is something you’ve dealt with, I’m certainly not saying you’ve done anything wrong. Yes, they should be the ones to change, but in the meantime you need to put on your big girl panties and get your work done.
Share your best tip for navigating the business world in the comment section!
Image Credit: Shutterstock