Networkin’ and Politicin’
Last night I was cringing as I watched HBO Insecure’s Molly (Yvonne Orji) attempts at networking in her white, male dominated law firm. Last season we saw Molly attempt to check her black female co-worker in an attempt to turn her down before the partner’s took notice, so it’s safe to say, Molly knows how to politic this office.
As Molly attempted to make small talk at the company hockey outing, only to be forgotten the next day, it all but reminded me of how much I loathe networking, especially as a black woman, and I do think that it is different.
Networking is an art that I think the elite of society are brought up to understand differently. For me, and my country upbringing, networking was more of a barter between two or more people verse the building of an actual network of individuals that could help me project a career.
Networking: : the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business… networking remains the No. 1 cause of job attainment … — Hal Lancaster
Barter v. Networking
When I was in college, I used to grease my hair with Tar grease. *pause* Yes, Tar grease. Anyone that knows Tar grease, knows that it, smells like…tar. I like it and I can go on about how Tar grease changed by life but that’s for another post.
One day in college, I was in the cafeteria and the cashier asked me about the smell of my hair. I told her that I used tar grease to moisturize my relaxed hair. She went on for a bit about how she could remember the smell from her childhood.
We shared stories of hair grease and I suggested to her, ‘ya know, I could bring you some grease when I come back to campus from the weekend?’ I gave her the icouldbeyourgrandbaby smile. She was so excited and thanked me for my generosity.
The next weekend, I brought the hair grease to the cafeteria and my 3 wings and fries meal for $5.99 magically changed to 5 wings, fries and a drink for $3.99. Because that’s how we do!
In the black community, I suppose what you would call networking, we would simply call bartering. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. It’s what we have been taught to do for generations in this country in order to make a dollar out of 15 cents (a dime, and a nickle).
The difference between this and ‘networking’ in the traditional since is that often times, bartering leaves you in the same position as before, just with maybe a little more to share.
Networking behaviors will be defined here as individuals’ attempts to develop and maintain relationships with others who have the potential to assist them in their work or career.
In other words, ain’t nothing the cafeteria lady could’ve done for me except fry my chicken hard and look the other way when I got a free refill. Let’s be clear, both are important arts to learn, without using the bartering system through my HBCU, I might not have been able to make it out, trust me!
Understanding the differences between learning how to effectively network and learning the art of if you scratch my back, i’ll scratch yours is what separates us from career success later in life.
Tip: In many companies, bartering isn’t allowed. So use the skills you learned bartering to help you network. If you’re one of those employees that keeps a drawer of snacks or a secret stash of sodas locked up, look out for someone in need. Throw out a bone: “I have a fork you can have Lisa” *you cheap mofo*
Use this time to introduce yourself, take an extra minute to look for the fork and then use what you get from Lisa to trap her in the break room in the future. “Hey Lisa! How was that lasagna your husband made? Did it turn out good?”
You may be the fork girl for now, but give it time and Lisa and all her cheap ass friends will come to know you by name.
Men v. Women
Networking as a woman is difficult. There it is. You can skip to the next section if you’d like. Gotdamned hard.
Although men and women may engage in similar networking behavior they will not achieve the same benefits due to differences in organizational influence structures.
Working women are jugglers. We juggle work life, family life, social life. With or without a partner, it’s difficult to juggle the happenings of being a woman in today’s society. At many times, this comes at an expense to our careers. We don’t get the opportunities to say ‘no’ or ‘I can’t make it.’ That’s not understood and you’ll be considered lazy or viewed as someone who doesn’t want to progress in their careers.
Moreover, the ways by which a woman has to network (similar networking behaviors) makes it so a woman is at a disadvantage. Take the sports talk. I love football. I know many women that do. But do you know the 5th quarterback your team has every had? What about the linebacker? Who was your team’s starting linebacker in 1977? I actually had a man challenge me in this way. I’m a Cowboys fan, but f*** I didn’t know I needed to be a Cowboys historian.
My attempts at using sports to network blew up in my face in this case because not only did he humiliate me, he left me stammering through the rest of the conversation like a bumbling idiot.
Tip: In retrospect, I should’ve gave it to my co-worker the way he gave it to me: “Dang nab it John, who died and made you Steven A. Smith?” See, now you done messed up John’s head. He thought he had you and maybe he did, you lost your footing. But back that ass up and check John’s ass real quick and clean with something you DO know. John will look like the break-room sexist pig and you will demand the respect you deserve.
- Bartering and Networking are different; but use the skills you learned bartering to network.
- Men and women network in similar ways but it is perceived differently; often to the benefit of the men. Find a way you fit into the conversation and use it to command respect. So what’s the point?
The point here is to point out that there are differences so you know they exists. Doesn’t it piss you off when people tell you sh*t is all in your head? There are differences and knowing and understanding those differences is what allows up to take on those challenges with finesse. Use the tips that I listed to combat some of these differences, stir and repeat. As a result, you should see some changes in your career and the way you network.
*PLEASE NOTE: I didn’t get to speak on the White Women v. Black Women Networking issues, but that will be in a later post. Be on the look out.
FORRET, M. L., & DOUGHERTY, T. W. (n.d.). Networking behaviors and career outcomes: differences for men and women? Journal of Organizational Behavior,1-5. Retrieved July 30, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Thomas_Dougherty2/publication/