“Women and men tend to network differently,” observed Anne Day, founder and president of Company of Women, a network for entrepreneurs in the GTA. “For women it is more about building relationships, while for men it is much more transactional,” she added.

By Leah Eichler (Founder, Femme-O-Nomics)

I may have to say good-bye to coffees.

Not the caffeinated beverage, per se. I subsist on 5 to 6 of those a day, but the activity of “having coffee” in an effort to network with a potential business associate. In my mind, enjoying a cup of coffee while engaging in stimulating conversation remains one of my favorite activities of all times. Add to that equation an iced caffeinated beverage on a patio in the summertime and you have my personal definition of nirvana. Why wouldn’t I try to turn that into a productive, work-related activity?

Yet, after some quick calculations it appears that these coffee meetings cost me much more than the few thousands of dollars I’ve certainly spent on the actual beverage in the last year. It’s the reason why at the end of week, I sometimes grapple with where my time went. So clearly, I need to either make the time count or cut back on these meetings. I decided on the latter.

Few dispute the value of strong connections and the hard benefits they result in. According to Harvard Business School, 65-85 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Social (or relational) capital provides value that translates into economic gain for companies and individuals alike.

Yet creating these networks – or even networking effectively — can be challenging and may require more effort than simply having a coffee.

Between off-line events and social media options, it sometimes feels that all we do is socialize and network with little result. According to one report, Americans spend 16 minutes out of each hour on social applications. So while it appears we are more social than ever, the return on investment for these activities can be difficult to define.

Women in particular struggle with networking. They don’t always have access to informal, male networks and their strategies.

For example, women’s networks tend to be strong but smaller in size and men’s broader networks helps with their upward mobility.

“Women and men tend to network differently,” observed Anne Day, founder and president of Company of Women, a network for entrepreneurs in the GTA. “For women it is more about building relationships, while for men it is much more transactional,” she added.

Ms. Day believes the key to successful networking is listening. Find out what interests the other person and then figure out how to help them to open the door for future reciprocity.

And don’t forget your own ask. Dr. Athena Vongalis-Macrow, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia analyzed the networking behaviors of 74 working women and discovered that while they demonstrated an “ethos of sharing” they were less likely to collaborate on work-related projects. They also were ineffective at clearly articulating their goals. These two components remain critical to building a relationship.

“The key to successful networking is developing a strategy of win-win,” explains Leigh Mitchell, president and founder of Women in Biz Network, an online and offline community.

“You should be always thinking of how you can help the person you are connecting with and let the natural progression of how that person can help you evolve. I believe those who help others always win in the long run,” she adds.

Perhaps an even more daunting obstacle that both women and men face – which brings me back to my coffee conundrum – comes down to a lack of time.

Toronto-based Katy Pedersen, who formerly worked for AOL in a product management role but is currently in-between jobs, laments the lack of networking opportunities during proper business hours.

“I struggle to network because of my family obligations,” admitted Ms. Pedersen. “My husband and I both have or had incredibly demanding careers. We’d run home from work for 2 hours with our son before his bedtime, and then both of us would be back to work at 8 p.m. to wrap our respective days.”

To work around the time crunch, Ms. Pedersen is a huge fan of LinkedIn. (As proof that social media plays a strong role in business networking, I discovered Ms. Pedersen through a tweet published to my Facebook page, which she responded to and engaged in our interview exclusively via Facebook chat.)

Ultimately, the strength of networks – digital or physical – comes down the strength of individual relationships. While I may have over 1200 LinkedIn contacts, I’m not sure how many I could turn to if I needed support.

“(Networking) is not about is how many business cards you collect,” insisted Ms. Day.

“I would rather chat to two or three people and get to know them than flutter around the room trying to connect with lots of people.”

Clearly, successful networking comes down to finding the right platform where you can both find ways to connect and assist others while articulating your own goals and needs. The recipe will be different for each person, but it needs three parts: meet, get support and reciprocate.

This post was originally published at Femmeonomics.

About the guest blogger: Leah Eichler is the Founder of Femme-O-Nomics, a content portal for professional women. She is also the Founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration app. Leah is a columnist on issues surrounding women in the workplace. Follow her on Twitter at @femmeonomics.


Photo credit: Femmeonomics