First, I want to go on record saying I love men. Truly, I do. Some of the best people I know are of the male persuasion. And, people ask me all the time if I coach men. Well, yes, I do. And I have. But as someone who started her career in the male-dominated industries of engineering and construction management, and who has been in the trenches of business ownership as a woman for 18 years (gasp!) I know that women face unique challenges when they enter entrepreneurship. From limiting beliefs and self-confidence issues, to communicating in the workplace, to life balance/integration, we need a different kind of support, and participating in women-only business groups gives us that.
You might be shocked to hear this, but men and women communicate differently. Yep. It’s true. Women use between 22,000 and 25,000 words a day, whereas men average only 7,000-10,000 (I know this because my dad will abruptly end a conversation by saying “Whelp, I’m out of words for the day, let’s talk again tomorrow,” but I digress….). In childhood, girls speak earlier than boys and by the age of three, have twice the vocabulary. Physiologically, women have about 11 percent more neurons than men, and those neurons are dedicated to communication and emotion.
So, on paper, women should be superior communicators. But in a mixed group, men tend to dominate the conversation. One study by researchers at Brigham Young University and Princeton suggests that men dominate as much as 75% of the conversation in meetings. The effect of this is that, in mixed groups, the women get less “floor time” for consideration of their topics and questions. Women in mixed groups are less likely to be viewed, and to view themselves, as influential in the group and to feel as though their voices is being heard. Removing the male voices allows women to, quite literally, claim their place at the table.
Women-only business groups are also the one place where women aren’t questioned about their right to be at that table based solely on their gender. While we’ve come a long way, baby, the truth is women are still judged in business based on our actions, our speech, how we dress, our tone of voice…you name it. Take gender away, and women can relax and get down to business, proving themselves solely on talent, drive, and credentials.
Of course, before we even get to the table, we have to monitor the kids sitting there with their homework, serve dinner on it, clear it, and do the dishes…along with a million other tasks. While men today are much more involved in running the family than our fathers’ generation, they can still have a hard time relating to the breadth of responsibility and life management with which we women struggle. There’s a real comfort to being in a group of other passionate business women who are struggling with the same work life balance issues.
Women also network differently from men. Let’s go back to the differences between the sexes. Men are linear thinkers, with most their thought processes originating in the left hemisphere of their brain, the “thinking” side. Women, however, use both sides of their brain, the “thinking” and the “feeling,” when processing thoughts. This enables us to more freely combine logic and emotion; we’re more integrated – we can hold different ideas in our head simultaneously and draw correlations between them. So, if, in a meeting, each opinion is a “dot”, we can embrace and connect all the “dots” to end up with a cohesive vision.
What does all that mean for networking? Men tend to look at networking as a straight shot to an end goal. Their thought process looks something like “who do I know who has what I need right now?” Then he finds that person who has that thing and he asks for it. Right now. Simple and direct, yes?
On the other hand, women’s focus on building relationships, and our ability to connect the “dots” – whether it be ideas or people – is a huge asset. Women have a naturally intuitive way of building relationships with others, and that makes it easier for us to create an atmosphere of trust that, in turn, makes it easier to navigate business challenges. What does this mean in networking? Women approach business relationships with all the “dots” in mind – our thought process is not focused on “what does she have that I need”, but on “what can I do for her in order to get what I need. We consider that, even if a connection can’t help right now, maybe she knows someone who can or will think of us at some point in the future when she needs someone. The connection itself is important to women, and we’re willing to be in it for the long haul.
You can never build too many business contacts, and there is never a limit to what you can learn from participating in business groups. There are plenty of benefits to mixed gender business groups, just as there are benefits to industry-specific groups, geographically-targeted groups, and other groups that address different aspects of your business journey. As women entrepreneurs and business owners, engaging with other women in a women-only business group gives uniquely feminine support and guidance on our business journey.