By Martin Daks, September 3, 2018
New Jersey organizations such as Business Women Networking in Charity and Education, Bergen County Professional Women’s Network and Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship Corp. are among the few that focus on connecting women.
But is this a good strategy, or are female professionals missing out when they exclude nearly half of the state’s population from their activities?
Caryn Starr-Gates, a copywriter who owns StarrGates Business Communications in Fair Lawn and sits on the board of the National Association of Women Business Owners – Central & Northern New Jersey Chapter, doesn’t see a problem. “As women, we approach relationship-building differently than men do,” she said. “Women tend to be more nurturing. We tend to draw others out in a conversation and consider how we can help them.”
A sense of support
According to Starr-Gates, women-oriented business organizations like NAWBO, which started in 1975, were launched at a time when women were making significant strides in the workforce “and they needed a sense of support. It wasn’t just networking and educational opportunities, but also legislative action to address pay gaps and other issues that continue to exist today. So advocacy is still important. With all that, we’re not exclusively female, since we do have some men who have joined the organization.”
As she sees it, women-focused networking events don’t mean missed opportunities, either. “A woman-centered event doesn’t necessarily hurt your ability to get referral sources,” she said. “Instead, it’s a supplemental approach. For example, I’m also a member of the North Jersey Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups, too. They’re all different pieces of a puzzle. Women and men approach networking in different ways, so it makes sense to have gender-based organizations.”
“In general, men are interested in getting leads and going home,” she continued. “In contrast, women want to get to know you and build relationships. Women also like to do business with people they know, like and trust. We just roll differently.”
The differences start with the introductions. “I don’t hand out a business card unless someone asks me,” she added. “I don’t start a conversation by telling the other person about myself. Instead, I want to begin by talking about the other person’s business.”
Different style of networking
It’s all part of the way women approach networking. “Women are more subtle about the way we approach things,” according to Starr-Gates. “Don’t just hand me a card and walk away. In fact I’ve handed cards back because I didn’t know the person. When I go to a networking event, it’s not just for leads. I want to learn about subject matter too. It’s nice to know that I’m with other people that ‘get it.’”
Women-focused organizations provide important support and other assistance, noted Suzanne Pease, a past president of NAWBO. She’s an entrepreneur who designs “wearable art” including jewelry, scarves and ties, and offers graphic design services.
“At every stage of life people need community support,” she said. “If you’re a mom with young children, it may be other new moms; or when you’re a young married couple, it may be other young couples. As a business owner, especially when you’re starting out, you need someone you can go to and discuss the ups and downs of your enterprise. Even after you’ve got years of experience under your belt, it’s great to have a community of people you can trust and go to, regardless of whether you’re celebrating or commiserating.”
Pease has been involved with NAWBO locally, nationally and internationally for more than 30 years. During that time, she said, “I’ve traveled to different countries and forged connections with women business owners in places like Tunisia, Morocco, Scotland and Germany.”
She’s also made important local connections that led to new business opportunities. “A woman business owner I knew from NAWBO eventually took a job in the marketing department of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and she recommended me, which led to an assignment developing a tie design for the organization,” noted Pease.
“I think you need both kinds of organizations, women-focused and more general ones,” she continued. “I’m involved with other organizations too. A few years ago I served as the chair of the Greater Monmouth Chamber of Commerce (which later merged with the Monmouth County Chamber, and is now the Monmouth Regional Chamber of Commerce). Connections at both organizations have led to business opportunities.”
Still, she said, “Sharing tends to happen more with women. As a society, we’ve conditioned women to share more information, even if it’s bad news. It seems like men are conditioned to hold their emotions closer to the vest with a ‘win-lose’ mentality, where more women have a ‘win-win’ approach where we feel if one person succeeds, we all succeed.”
It starts with a conversation, added Pease. Men often network by telling someone about their own business and what they offer, but “at women networking events we often introduce ourselves by mentioning our name and then asking, ‘What do you need?’”
Science behind women’s networking
A study of 2,600 working women, cited in a recent Harvard Business Review article, found that women attending female conferences where they connected with peers were, a year later, more than twice as likely to get a promotion, and three times more likely to get a pay hike of more than 10 percent, as opposed to women who signed up for the conferences but didn’t go.
“We also polled the women who’d attended the conference about how it affected their overall outlook,” noted researcher and author Shawn Achor. “Seventy-eight percent of them reported feeling ‘more optimistic about the future’ after attending. While we did not compare this with the control group’s outlook, this still seemed like a significant finding to us in part because of what we know about how a positive mindset can affect other aspects of life.”