Updated: Aug 25, 2019
For a large portion of my career, I found networking to be so damn hard
Some months ago I was at a networking event for women in the mining industry. At some point one of the young women stated that aside from the forum we were at that evening, she didn't know of any networking opportunities and so was struggling to find a mentor. That comment struck a chord with me, not because I don't know where to network - but rather because for a large portion of my career, I found networking to be so damn hard. Most of my work life up until two years ago had been in the mining and construction industries - male dominated environments.
We are all attracted to what we know
Now I have no problem socialising and networking with men - in fact by and large I quite enjoy it. But sometimes it's just so much easier to hang out with women - not because we talk about "women stuff" but because there are fewer awkward nuances - and let me be blunt, because sometimes it's just so much easier hanging out with people that are like me.
As a young woman, networking in the male-dominated worlds of mining and construction just felt really awkward. Most of the time I was networking with men who were my fathers age, or older! Running through my mind were questions along the lines of:
Will it be ok to say this or will it be misinterpreted as flirting?
Have I stayed too late having drinks at the bar with male colleagues?
What do I do when guys crack a really crude joke - crack one back to fit in? raise an eyebrow? walk away? read them the riot act? pretend I didn't hear?
How do I get to know these guys on a person-to-person level, not just a professional level, without asking questions that feel inappropriate when I ask them, but seem so normal when they ask them?
Herminia Ibarra's article on why strategic networking is harder for women says it way better than I can. But in recent years, I have found networking to be a lot less challenging, possibly for two reasons:
I network in a lot of women's groups
Online networking is a space in which I feel very comfortable and over time that comfort has translated into a number of in-person relationships and initiatives
Networking opportunities (largely) with women in mind
So with the young woman in mind who said she didn't know where to go to network, I have compiled a list of online and in-person networking opportunities, some of which are specifically geared for women! These are not necessarily places that will provide technical mentorship opportunities, but they are certainly spaces where you may just find a few female mentors, friends and potential additions to your personal "board of directors".
I have participated in every one of these groups and based on my personal experience and recommendations from some really inspiring women in business, here are 5 places to network, learn, gain advice and support and contribute to, as and when you feel inspired to do so.
So let me start with an absolutely shameless plug for my Facebook The Career Women Collective. If I didn't promote my own group, I would be a bit silly.
I set up The Career Women Collective Facebook group in 2017 to start holding conversations with women about all things career. Why? Well because a while ago I had a career-blocking mountain in my way - it was an Everest-sized mass of derailing behaviours, limiting assumptions, contextual issues, misalignment of values, lack of vision, loss of sense of purpose, and overwhelming exhaustion! And I felt like I had no one to talk to about all of this - at least not without someone either wanting to fix me, make me feel better, or judge me. I yearned for a place where I could talk about what was going on and someone would just say "I hear you! I get you!".
It took me some soul searching, lots of coaching, and some really inspiring women that have come into my life in the past two years, to help me reignite my internal rocket fuel! And finally when my energy returned I created this group because I wanted to help other women have a safe space to talk about their careers, what they were struggling with, where they were winning, what they were learning and where they were aiming for next. Your career mountains may be very different to mine - but one thing is for sure - in this group you will find women who get you. So join the group. It's free.
I joined the Hello Boss Community about a year ago. Initially the group scared me (yes Ashley it did!) as everyone seemed to be so brilliant in their own right and I was at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey and felt so unfamiliar with everything. But over the course of a few months I started to speak up, I started to receive encouragement and I even started to attract a few clients. Now a year later, a couple of the members of this group are my friends, we do work with each other, we meet up in person and share our stories with each other.
I am Ashley Knight an entrepreneur, business mentor, community founder & people connector (yup! it's a thing!). I'm also an avid coffee & gin enthusiast; novice minimalist, bullet journaler & planning strategist. Boss-momming is so hard right now too, as new (and first-time) mommy to little Georgia Rose (aka Pea). Those closest to me describe me as a stubborn optimist, a little bossy (pah!), and a firm believer in building a business around a life you love, and not the other way around.I founded HBC because I needed someone to call on for business advice and support. Someone who understood...who would just "get me" when it came to talking business. Someone not afraid to share, support, ask and learn alongside. My dream is for HBC to be a place where where women in business (that's you) have the opportunity to learn, connect, collaborate and flourish fearlessly into the business women and/or leaders they were created to be!
HBC is a close-knit community of female entrepreneurs from all over the world. It's a space filled with laughter, creativity, friendship, collaboration, support, bad-ass boss advice and master-your-hustle tips! These are soon to be your FAVE peeps in the online (and offline) space...they're rich in smarts, creativity & integrity; and are genuinely some of the bravest an kindest people you’ll ever meet! You wont find any of that fake "I'm perfect" BS here! (bleugh!) It's our desire to create and cultivate an honest, real, supportive and (most importantly) highly actionable and learning-centered business community. There's no magic formula that'll make you your millions babe, it takes a oodles of hustle and heart to have your dreams become a reality. So if you're ready...so are we! Let's do this together!
WeTalk is a platform that facilitates business conversations using Twitter as the medium for conversation. When I first heard about twitter talks I was intrigued by how they would work. If managed well, they work brilliantly. And WeTalk's #WeTalkBiz twitter chat is managed expertly and professionally by the founder Nolonwabo ‘Nolly’ Qunta and Managing Director of Konnect House (PTY) LTD. I have now participated in three or four of these chats and look forward to engaging in more of them. Why? Because they are fast paced, fascinating and I have connected with a umber of people as a result of these talks that I might never have met otherwise.
WeTalk's mission, which it is successfully achieving with almost 6500 members across Africa, is to bring entrepreneurs together to empower each other. Through the #WeTalkBiz twitter chats that happen every Tuesday from 8pm to 9pm (South Africa time) Nolly brings entrepreneurs together virtually to talk, share their experiences and entrepreneurial journeys with the objective of tapping into each others knowledge.
I started WeTalk with the aim of creating a digital hub that would connect entrepreneurs from all walks of life and business to discuss topical business issues and find a solutions as a collective, and perhaps even collaborate. I firmly believe in the power of collaboration.
I'm 2015, I started a NPO which failed dismally. Later I gathered that, should WeTalk have been there the future of my NPO may have been vastly different. I lacked a space for entrepreneurs that had a well of information. I needed to be surrounded by like minded humans and THAT is the bridge WeTalk is filling. Not only that, we are now branching out to be the voice of change in ENTREPRENEURSHIP.
Leading this platform has given me multiple platforms and I am now on radio as well as the co-host of The Table of Influence on NMK radio. I am slowly becoming a speaker sharing my entrepreneurial journey and I am working towards being the voice of entrepreneurship. In 2017 my efforts in being seen as a global voice for female entrepreneurship were recognised when I was chosen as the only young and English speaking female entrepreneur to speak at the Tropics Business Summit, a Global Event. In addition I was asked to join the Lindiwe Sisulu presidential campaign as a social media analyst and online researcher. I aim to do everything with excellence but most importantly, LOVE.
The name alone attracted me to this group: She Gathers. Doesn't that just evoke a wonderful sense of women gathering together to support each other? I recently attended one of Mlisska Hubert's group sessions where she used some carefully selected exercises to create connection, encourage vulnerability and sharing and develop insights into ourselves. As a coach attending another coach's event, it was an absolute privilege to participate rather than facilitate - and I was truly astounded to experience the depth of insights that dawned on me a few days later.
In 2016 I qualified as a Life Coach. Doing the training and coaching clients, particularly women, increased my desire to create a space where women gathered and got real — with each other and with the stuff we are facing. I am married to a wonderful man and have four kids, which I also homeschool — a full, happy life!
"She Gathers is building a suspension bridge between women. We host gathering points to hold communion about what it means to be a woman Today. Most events aimed at women are with one purpose in mind: Be _____ . We got tired of hearing about all the work we were doing and not being enough. We needed to thin instantly, mom perfectly, career aggressively, wife sexily, and so forth.
Really, we became very interested in the women next to us, the one in front of us in the check out line, the one in the car behind us in traffic: What did she think? How is she coping? What is her story? We believe the story gives permission. Great big swathes of permission — to go ahead and live your very own story. No comparing, no grading, no measuring. Just you do you, and I’ll do me.
Currently we run two different events. Our She Speaks evenings have a story with a glass of wine and dinner. One lady gets brave enough to get behind a mic and share something she has lived through and learned from. And our newly launched She Tells Tales is a much smaller gathering over Saturday afternoon tea, facilitating a conversation between all present around women and work (whether you work in the home, corporate or are an entrepreneur)".
LinkedIn is probably the biggest online networking event globally. A networking event you say? Yes a networking event. If you are looking at LinkedIn as a place to post your CV and then never go back to again, you are completely missing the point.
Let me put it this way:
There are over 500 million registered LinkedIn users, and growing - this is the largest database of professionals available.
It's a perfect place to link up with people in your industry, be found by recruiters and connect with people that you might ordinarily not have any access to.
It's an opportunity for you to share your professional content, voice your opinion, debate and add to conversations, and develop a professional and credible reputation.
It is in LinkedIn that I have broadened my professional network dramatically over the last year and increased my profile in the coaching industry. I have started building relationships with people from across the globe - people who respond to comments and conversations, but whom I had no relationship with in person and ordinarily wouldn't be able to access at all. In a few instances, these are now people who I chat to on e-mail and at some point in the future I hope to meet in person.
If you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, just drop me a note with your connection request.
I hope to see you working your networks online and in-person soon!
I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.
I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself. I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? Drop me a message and I will get back to you asap.