[Words: Inge Woudstra]
There’s a lot of support out there for women, such as in women’s networks, coaching and mentoring. Some people believe that these networks are needed as women are more insecure and need to be propped up. They believe that perhaps women can’t cope by themselves. Perhaps that is even what you think. Perhaps you think you are better off networking with men.
It’s especially hard to network with women as some of these women’s groups are made fun of by the guys too. It sort of scares them, all these women, and they say something about ‘gossiping’ and roll their eyes.
But, think about it. Many women do like to vent and feel that someone else really understands. Is that really bad? Many women do love gossiping. Should we stop doing it? Should we just grow up and be serious and professional?
No! The opposite is true. We need our girlfriends, they are essential for our health, well-being and career success. Let me show you why, and how you can make it work for you to help your career.
Girlfriends are essential – they keep us stable, healthy and confident
Personally, I never gave my girlfriends, networks and gossip a second thought. I love it, so what if I am being made fun of?
However I changed my mind after reading this fantastic article by Bonnie Marcus published here. Bonnie, the founder of the site, and a successful business coach, quotes the head of psychiatry at Stanford, and it instantly hit a nerve with me.
Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality “girlfriend time” helps us to create more serotonin–a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well being.
Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going. Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes. Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf? Yes. But their feelings?–rarely.
Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters, and evidently that is very good for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.
He explained that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.
After reading this, I realised how essential my female friends are for me. How spending time with them is not wasting my time, but is a form of exercise. When we exercise we are doing something that’s good for our bodies, and it’s the same when we are hanging out with female friends.
So I started doing it more deliberately, and it has hugely boosted my confidence and creativity.
Building your circle of girlfriends to help your career
So what does this mean for you? What do you need to do and, more importantly, what can you do to make it work for your career?
1. Make sure you vent, gossip and share your feelings in a safe place
Yes, you do need to vent gossip, and share your feelings, no need to be ashamed of it, it’s for your health and it helps you feel secure. But keep it to yourself, and be careful not to do it in the office. You wouldn’t do a fitness work-out in the office would you? There’s a time and a place for everything.
This advice particularly applies if you work in a male-dominated industry. Similarly it applies if you work at – or aspire to work at – a more senior level, dominated by males. So do remember that the first thing you need to do is to find a safe place before sharing your feelings.
2. Consciously build a support system
Perhaps you have a good group of friends, which is great, but you want to check if they can really help with your career. If you find this is not the case, you need to start building your own support system. You could join a women’s network, just try a few and see which one resonates with you.
If you can’t find the support you like. Then just start your own network or LinkedIn Group. Or, if you are more of a 1-to-1 person, why not organise a monthly chat over lunch with a peer, a ‘sparring partner’. Or look for a more formal way to create similar support. A coach can have this role, or a mentor.
3. Don’t be afraid to chat and share while networking with women
Networking groups are often seen as a place to build business contacts, and eventually sell. Yes, this is indeed what you need to do while out networking.
But a networking group that you visit regularly can also become a great place to find support. A place where you can find someone who listens, someone that recognises your issues, and helps you feel motivated and inspired. Don’t worry about it and do make sure there is time and space for you mental work-out!
4. Remember, network for your career too, with men!
So yes, it is good to network for support, but you also need to network for career opportunities. It can be helpful to find a sponsor or mentor who can help you with that, join a business network or go for a role as a governor or non executive director.
For this sort of networking you do not have to turn to other women. You need someone that can connect you with the right people or opportunities, someone that will champion your cause and help you get ahead. Men might even be better placed for that, as they often have a different or wider network.
Where to start?
Your first step, is to find a few minutes to reflect. Check in with yourself and ask ‘Do I feel supported?’ Perhaps you regularly feel frustrated, with no place to go. Or perhaps you bore your partner with work feelings, or worse even, burst out in slightly inappropriate rants to random colleagues. Then it’s time to look for further support and start building your network of female supporters.
[Published by WiC on behalf of Inge Woudstra of W2O Consulting and Training]