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Do working women in India lose out because they network too little? Why women must network.
By Chitra Iyer
Socializing outside office is an important part of one’s career development strategy. There is no doubt that building strong relationships keeps one in the ‘mind space’ of colleagues and seniors who may one day recommend us for jobs, give references or direct critical opportunities our way. The good old ‘going golfing with my boss’, Friday evening drinks at the local bar, or officially sponsored ‘off-sites’ are all good examples of networking opportunities, and participating comes easily to men. However, for women professionals who may also be mothers or caretakers, these could be fraught with reservations and doubts. All of us have probably faced some of these dilemmas at some stage in our career.
To go or not to go for after-work team-building sessions? To drink or not to drink with office colleagues? To dress up or dress down at an industry cocktail event? To discuss ‘personal stuff’ with colleagues or not, and to what extent? Outside the workspace, the boundaries between corporate and social culture tend to blur. Protocol becomes a matter of discretion and judgment. So, what exactly is the relationship between our networking behaviour as women professionals in India and our long-term career outcomes?
Well, there are no clear answers, unfortunately! But it is a fact that some degree of socialization and ‘visibility’ is necessary for any professional, irrespective of gender. Good relationships within and outside office help get things done, because relationships still drive people to deliver. Minal Sharma-Vadodaria, a corporate executive turned entrepreneur says, “Socializing does two things – build relationships and open new doors. Socializing shouldn’t be confused with pleasing your seniors to work your way up. I have personally got some critical career breaks because of my strong network and credibility in the industry”.
Whatever the reason for socializing – getting ahead at work, networking for new jobs, or gaining visibility in one’s industry – there will be trade-offs. We need to make considered and conscious choices based on the type of industry, company culture, role, level and function we are in; we also need clarity on what we are willing to do to achieve success in our context.
Riddhi Wallia, Founder-CEO of a decade old media-relations firm has always been a self-employed woman. She does not feel working women in India ‘have to’ socialize to get ahead and access more career opportunities. She has consciously kept her after-work hours sacrosanct, while admitting that women who make this choice may not have access to as many career opportunities, especially in an age where everything is about ‘who you know’. “You need to know what you want and more importantly how much you need. Once you are confident of the answers to those questions, you can rest assured that standing out and away from the norm is not such a bad thing after all”, she concludes.
Managers do understand the difference between candidates who make a choice to be less social and those who lack social skills. Today there are several options to supplement low ‘face-time’ with virtual visibility – being active on company blogs or intranets, participating in industry events virtually via webinars; staying in touch with old colleagues and managers via professional networking websites like Linkedin etc. In addition, structured socializing opportunities like company off-sites and industry events enable us to plan and allocate time for this important activity without spending money or compromising on family time.
Rashi Mittal, a former corporate executive and now an entrepreneur feels that “Women do need to socialize to get access to more career opportunities, but not necessarily any more than men need to. There are just more ‘opportunities’ for social engagement available to men than there are for women; say for example the post-work drink at a pub may not be an option for a woman. Women may be restricted to structured off-sites or get-togethers, and to catch up with the men, they need to make the most of every opportunity they get”.
Ultimately everyone wants a valuable player on the team as well as a ‘team player’. It is up to us to strike the balance. Jaishri Shivaram, a senior corporate executive with over 20 years of work experience believes, “Socializing may not be a stairway to one’s career but does strengthen bonds and bring in ease in a working relationship – which is not to be misunderstood as making the relationship totally informal. So while a woman might socialize, controlling the ‘formality’ in a working relationship with another colleague is still something she can exercise”.
What has your experience been? Share your tips on networking for career women with other readers.
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