According to new research published in the journal Human Relations, women don't network as much as men because of implicit bias—an unconscious set of "moral concerns" that cause women to be more hesitant to use social connections for professional gains. Because of that, coupled with women's tendency to "undersell their self-worth," networking can feel awkward.
Basically, the research boils down to the fact that men are encouraged to speak more, leverage their personal relationships and be very confident in their abilities. Women are not.
We asked four women to share their most cringeworthy networking stories to prove that you're not alone in feeling weird about networking. Here's what they had to say.
1. Brutal honesty.
"In my early twenties, I lived in a coastal town with a vibrant but very tight-knit arts scene. I was trying to break into local literary publications and went to a mixer for the lit community hosted at a wine bar," says Emily, the brand editor at House Method. "I was speaking to the owner of the bar, who asked me what I thought of one of the publications. I told him very honestly what I thought about it — that it wasn't very good at all, but that it had great potential. Turns out, that wine bar owner was also the publisher of that publication. He didn't like my very candid attitude and, needless to say, I didn't get any sort of job with him."
Emily says that the lesson here is not that you shouldn't be honest. She still stands by her comments to this day. Rather, she says it's important to know who you're talking to.
"As an editor now, I welcome criticism and want to know what's not working. Just know that not everyone feels this way. You should also do your homework before you go networking. You should have a good handle on who's who."
2. Too much talking.
"Networking is a professional setting to meet new people; aside from people trying to pick up a hot date at a networking event, another cringe-worthy experience is being in a conversation that one person dominates, so much so, that it's impossible to get in a word," says Devoreaux Walton, a confidence coach for women at The Modern Lady. "When someone is interested in only sharing their thoughts and opinions instead of having a conversation to get to know someone new, it's best they stay home and enjoy a good chat in the mirror."
Walton remembers an experience like this at an event for personal development professionals, when she was standing in a small group of just four people chatting before one man joined in and took over the conversation.
"We had been discussing how much fun it is to go yachting in Seattle, and he added in that Seattle was no comparison to the Greek Islands. He then went on to talk for 20 minutes about his trip to the Greek Islands, how much money he spent there, showing photos of the vacation and explaining that the food was better than any other food he had ever eaten in the United States. Needless to say, he spent time talking at us — not to us. No one in our small group asked for his business card, and he did a great job being selfish and narcissistic at that networking event."
3. Not-so-meaningful connections.
"I went to a networking group that allowed proxies; the proxy was there to deliver the absent member’s elevator speech, and could share their own if there weren’t any competing businesses in the room," says Katherine McGraw Patterson, who is publishing a book on networking called Lunching with Lions: Strategies for the Networking-Averse.
The woman stood up to read the missing member’s introduction from an iPad, in a monotone voice, never looking up until she was done reading.
"On my way home, I got a message from her saying that her boss wanted to connect with me for a one-on-one. It took me a day or two to return the call," she explained.
When Patterson finally returned the call, the assistant had no idea who she was. So instead, she invited her into the office for a sales pitch about the proxy's services — not even a personal chat.
"This was not awkward for me, personally, but sad that this is how some people approach networking. And sad that this assistant didn’t have her act more together."
4. Inappropriate assumptions.
"During a conference for emerging entrepreneurs, a gentleman reached out to shake my hand and said, before he even asked my name, 'And are you a mommy-to-be?' while looking at my midsection. I wasn't pregnant," says Amy C. Waninger, founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level LLC.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.