Networking Matters

I recently accompanied a colleague to a planning meeting where there was maybe 3 women in the room. The men were obviously working as part of the old boys’ club, it was obvious they knew each other, calling each other with nicknames and strengthening an already established rapport. I do not have to ask how many of you have been there before. It definitely was not my first time. You do not have to ask how many words the women in the room got to speak or how many decisions they got their voices heard on.

We are Isolated and we should panic! 

Coming to from AWiB this was an absolutely frustrating experience and I kept glaring at the other two women to speak one peep, just one. Even though I was only there as an observer, out of the three women in the room, I am the only one that finally speaks. The other two are stone silent, furiously taking notes. No-one addresses the women directly except for the colleagues they came with, even then, it is about office secretarial work or office housework. Their eyes downcast, they seem glued to their notes and the room is thundering with the man\’s voice, the tempo picking up at every turn.

These men, from such different backgrounds and organizations, are already talking to each other as brothers and longtime friends, even if they have nothing in common. There is camaraderie filled laughter every once in a while.  I asked myself, how are these men going to ever give these young women space to grow if they do not assert themselves? Where should it start? Should it be the men, comfortable with the age old status quo and probably oblivious to what I am looking at, should they ‘include’ our voices? Or is it our responsibility to ensure we are seen AND heard?

I understand why we do not speak up, why we hesitate to network or be seen. It is just not what a “good woman” does. Even in the workplace, women gathering together to network is discouraged with snide remarks that the women are up to no good. Those that do go against the norm do not have it easy. Women coming together is simply not encouraged, just look at this Amharic saying.

ሴት ሲበዛ …ይላል ያገሬ ሰው::

So we isolate ourselves and we are encouraged to do so at every turn. We isolate ourselves from our peers, we isolate ourselves by age, we isolate ourselves from men. We do not network and because we do not network, we have no idea what we are worth, where we are going and how to get there.  Walk into a room, any meeting room and it is all men with the exception of a few token women here and there. Whatever they are talking about, whatever decisions they are making, be it policy, development, politics or climate change, they are making decisions without us! We should panic!!

There is Strength in Numbers

Ladies, we make up 51% of the population and there is strength in numbers! Networking with other women and men, that is power! That is how learning and growth happens, connecting with others.  Tell that guy you work with that sticks you with all the office housework like the secretarial, logistics work, tell him clearly I Am Not a Secretary. I am not your Personal Assistant, hand holder or babysitter. There is nothing wrong with secretarial work and if you need one, please hire one. There are plenty on the job market. If you need a personal assistant, again, hire one.  You are there to roll up your sleeves and get to work, so no office house work for you! Speak up!

Getting Your Networking Groove on with AWiB

You know those networking exercises on every single AWiB event? They are there for a reason. At the very least they are practice. If you use them well, then it is your chance to meet your next collaborator, your next boss and your next mentor. As they say, practice makes perfect and AWiB is the perfect place to practice, hone your skills and meet your challenges head-on, coming out triumphant. Believe me, I know. As an introverted extrovert, networking is the most challenging exercise for me. Thanks to AWiB, I am fast becoming a pro! Join me.