Do women need to be good networkers to lead?

Jason Renshaw's picture

In a dynamic and complex business environment, networking is crucial. Jason Renshaw from Women & Leadership Australia (WLA) says highly developed emotional intelligence and communication skills are the basis for powerful collaboration and reciprocal learning.

The simple answer to my question in the headline is: yes. A critical capacity of all effective leaders is their ability to build and utilise useful networks at personal, operational and strategic levels.

Particularly in a business environment characterised by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), networking is key. What you're able to draw on, learn from or contribute to outside the confines of your department or even whole organisation is often as critical as what you have to work with internally.

However, our twelve years working with aspiring and senior female leaders at WLA indicates that for many women 'networking' isn't quite the straightforward business or professional prospect it appears to be for a lot of their male colleagues.

"Despite acknowledging the potential benefits of networking for their leadership practice, many of the truly inspirational women leaders with whom I work conceded a common vulnerability: A barrier to their network-building and active participation is a reservation about their capacity to contribute, stretch the thinking of others, or be worthy of having ‘a voice’ in the esteemed company around them," says Lucy McCarthy, one of WLA's senior facilitators and Director of Advanced Leadership Programs Online.

"To confidently take their place in connecting with ‘network advantage’, women must firstly do what they do so well: use highly developed emotional intelligence and communication skills as the basis for powerful collaboration and reciprocal learning."

According to Lucy, leadership programs targeted specifically at women can also play a major role in helping build better networking skills. WLA's new Elevate program, available as a 2-day face to face or 4-week live online learning experience, has an entire module dedicated to building advantageous relationships within, across and beyond women's immediate working environments.

"It is within a conversation of courage and openness that women can demonstrate their genius; for many women, it takes great courage to step forward and offer their voice – this program will help muster the courage and redefine a ‘way of being’ for sustaining networking success."

Interestingly, while some past studies have shown significantly higher levels of leadership competency for women over men (on no less than 12 of 16 competencies), they also indicated that while their initiative, relationship building and collaboration and teamwork skills were higher than their male counterparts, being innovative and connecting their groups to the outside world were not.

A better understanding and use of networking via breadth, connectivity and dynamism, could well be the key to making it a clean sweep.

Jason Renshaw is the Chief Learning Officer for WLA. He has close to 20 years of experience leading the design, delivery and management of innovative curricula in K-12, vocational, tertiary, government and corporate settings in both Australia and Asia. He has led more than 200 professional development workshops and made plenary and keynote appearances at major education sector conferences across Asia and Europe. Jason has performed in Learning Design lead roles for Open Universities Australia and the University of Melbourne’s new Graduate Online program (including course design for the Graduate School of Education), working closely with the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Educational Innovation.