Updated: Sep 7
Developing a professional network and learning how to expand our networks is essential to a prosperous career. But how often do we take the time to analyze our networks to see if we are reaching the right people in the right disciplines and professions? Ensuring that our networks are diverse is important because diversity and inclusion is proven to result in more innovation. This yields a competitive advantage for organizations with high degrees of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It is common to lack strategy when it comes to building our networks. Because networking often happens organically, this may result in missing out on some powerful connections that may be helpful throughout different stages of our career. As younger generations become leaders, we have a responsibility to break up the homogeneous networks that have previously run our major industries. A diverse professional network is essential to this new wave of leaders being able to thrive and potentially conquer areas of an industry that previous leaders haven’t been able to.
Building your professional network often begins before someone lands their first professional job. There is no denying that is it easier to let our networks evolve based on people we know from previous jobs or school experiences. To be strategic we have to be intentional in who we invite to our network and who we make new connections with as our careers develop. Often times our networks consist of people similar to us in areas such as socio-economic status, gender, race, culture, and education. We have to be intentional about who we seek out, searching for people who have valuable skills, insights, or accomplishments that would prove to be beneficial regardless of their backgrounds. Today, our access to technology allows us to seek out and make new connections that extend beyond our comfortable bubbles of like-minded peers and colleagues.
Auditing your network can be a productive first step in diversifying and expanding your pipeline. Take the time to objectively identify how many people look like us, think like us, or live like us. Once you have a definitive idea of who is included in our networks, we are then able to strategically enhance it by seeking out diverse people whose knowledge or skills can align with our career objectives. Similarly, you can connect with others outside of your industry or from different professional backgrounds to gain knowledge, insight, and skills from industries you could learn about.
Networking can be a painful exercise, but it is necessary to keep abreast and on top of things in our primary career sectors. However, we don’t have to stay within our narrow networks. As we explore potential new connections, we should strategically think about how to be intentional in diversifying our networks. Get rid of thinking about quotas and simply seek out people we may not have an opportunity to interact with on a regular basis.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are groups of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences. ERGs have become more popular, especially in mid-to-large scale organizations, and are generally based on providing support, enhancing career development, and contributing to personal development in the work environment. Take advantage of the ERGs within your organization to meet people outside of your specific discipline who you’d be unlikely to meet or interact with in your daily work life. Many companies have ERGs for women, veterans, BIPOC groups, LGBTQ+ employees, people with disabilities, and others. ERGs are a great way to learn about other areas of business as well as putting on a new set of lenses for other perspectives in your workplace.
As you expand and enrich your network with these new strategies, be sure to schedule time for networking and make it a fundamental part of your career plan. You may consider spending an hour each week or month to delegate time to networking efforts. This persistence and dedication will pay off and soon you will see how you have successfully grown your network while diversifying it for a more powerful took in your career toolbox.