The Benefits of Networking: In Business and for Wellbeing
Sharla Smith explores the personal challenges of networking and how to connect with the power networking offers, as well as the benefits it can bring to employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
There is a power in connecting, interacting, communicating, and networking. Ultimately, we are here on this planet to experience the joy of how we develop and learn when we meet others. Networking not only helps us grow personally, but it also helps us develop professionally and grow our connections and support network. In turn there is a benefit in networking that supports our mental health and wellbeing.
What is the hesitation in connecting or networking?
I remember hating the word… networking. Rather than receiving it as an opportunity to connect, that word triggered anxiety, fear and insecurity.
It brought my feelings, experiences and issues with hierarchy, status and ego to the surface. And took away from my source of power rather than gifting me with it.
As someone who has constantly been marginalised into the intersection of my Race and Sex, this was particularly distressing and an additional weight. Having to explain your existence to a room full of ‘others’ is frustrating to say the least.
What does the word networking actually mean?
According to Etymonline, ‘to network’ means – to interact with others to exchange information and develop contacts.
If, like me, you struggle(d) with the word, my hope in writing this is that now we have clarified the definition and its true meaning, it brings a shift, a power to you and your wellbeing.
There is a benefit and power in knowing.
“To interact with others to exchange information and develop contacts.”
But what if, now we are clear on the definition, there was a way to fulfil that which has in the past felt like depletion?
What are the benefits of networking?
There is beauty in interaction and a benefit of learning new information.
Even if the information does not align with what we thought we knew.
Traditionally, many people regarded networking as an opportunity for promotion in their role. However, networking has much more to offer. In fact, networking can help us grow both personally and professionally. And now, with the development of online networking, we have the ability to network and connect on a whole new level.
But what are the benefits of networking?
1. Develop meaningful connections
Social networks and online technology mean that one major benefit is a connection with family and friends around the world. As someone from the global majority, I have family all around the world. And social networks have massively improved how and when we communicate. This is also true for global businesses and how we connect professionally.
Now more than ever before, we are communicating with diversity in its many layers and broadening our knowledge and connections. Networking is part of being human and is a great opportunity to learn from others from different backgrounds, different experiences and different perspectives.
Over the years I have learnt when networking to:
- Focus on listening and learning from the person in front
- Remember that a person in a more ‘senior’ role is a person first
- Work on developing my personal and professional value
- Authenticate who I am. It can be felt.
- Develop the ability to live in the moment (not in my head)
- Define networking – to interact with others to exchange information.
- My wellbeing comes first!
2. Personal learning and development
I have personally experienced both online and in-person connections that offer emotional support and career advice. These meetings aren’t something that can be planned or orchestrated – and the spontaneity of such impactful connections make it all the more authentic.
Networking can also offer a wide range of opportunities for personal development. As well as connecting with like-minded individuals or other professionals in your sector to share your experiences and challenges, you can also learn ways in which you can overcome barriers and obstacles.
I was at a networking event recently and a senior consultant commended my work. It felt so good to be appreciated, especially as I had been struggling with imposter syndrome. At the same event another colleague asked about my availability – which led to my generating more work.
Networking can help to build resilience and broadened your perspective, and offer you a range of skills, tools and people available to you to respond to different situations.
In the past, we have confused like-minded with same sex or race or hair colour, an affirmation of our own perspective. However, ‘like-minded’ can be having similar experiences, growing up in nearby communities, sharing the same activities which only can be discovered in the exchange of information. This in-turn expands who we are.
Online networks and groups, such as The Inclusion Connection, facilitate peer-to-peer discussion and the sharing of best practice and experiences, as well as useful DEI resources. It is a space where diversity professionals can share articles, books and videos that others can benefit from.
3. Supporting employee wellbeing
Post-pandemic we are more aware than ever about our mental health and well-being. Struggling with a personal or work-related issue in isolation may not be the most constructive, and help may exist in individuals you’ve already met through networking.
Sharing with others helps us consider different perspectives and approaches to our problems, in turn helping us to find new solutions.
How to get started with networking
There are a number of ways you can approach networking in a positive and manageable way. Here are some of my tips:
- Approach networking with an open and positive mindset
- Stay in the moment, see and hear the person
- Make an effort to connect – allocate time
- Set personal boundaries for self-care
- Acknowledge and accept that a connection cannot be formed with everybody and that’s OK!
If you’re an employer, consider the creation of employee resource groups (ERGs). It is crucial that these groups are properly resourced and supported by the organisation. Benefits include cultural awareness, staff retention and a space for reflection and feedback.
The Inclusion Connection
The Inclusion Connection is an innovative online professional network, and a dedicated space for professionals working in equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging and wellbeing. This space allows members to connect with peers, industry experts and to engage with Diversity & Inclusion leaders. You can discuss the latest industry challenges, best practices in diversity and inclusion, and get involved in industry related events.
Members also have access to the open feed and focussed forum discussions, and additional reference materials within the resources centre.
Nina Amoo, my amazing Diversity and Inclusion colleague at EW Group and Challenge Consultancy, says:
“Networking is an important tool for personal and professional development. It helps me connect with other diversity professionals and stay on top of industry developments. I’m excited to join The Inclusion Connection and discussions on the latest in diversity and inclusion best practice!”
In all, knowing how networking serves you rather than the weight of how you serve it is vital.
The power in networking is unique to you… so how does networking benefit you?