Beating the Old School Networks

Beating the Old School Networks

Following our monthly Elevate virtual session, (this month topics being ‘The Secret about Networking’ ) we received the following question:

I have been listening to the discussion this afternoon with interest. Although I realise that networking in the UK is nowadays prevalent to grow and develop in your career, I was appointed in the initial role that brought me here, not due to whom I knew or networking, but as a result of interviewing well and being able to demonstrate that I could do the job well. Although I have always been good in networking and done all three elements included in today’s session – curious, generous and conscientious- I have realised that in our industry, if you have not studied at a specific university and are not part of the inner circle (that cannot be broken into) you will not be appointed in more senior roles. How should one deal with this?

This is a great question and one that we get in many different ways and on a fairly regular basis.

First of all in 2019, most of us would like to think these ‘old school’ style networks were all but dying out. The reality is that they are still very much alive.  This is group behaviour in action and it is not just limited to gender, background… That ‘them and us’ attitude is all around us,  including professionally  – non lawyers working in law firms, non-engineers working in engineering departments and so on and so on.

When it comes to recruitment, promotion, spotting talent, we tend to prefer people ‘like ourselves’, which is one of the many reasons that personal connections are so key to climbing the corporate ladder.

So how can we infiltrate any powerful clique?  Should we even try?  One way to go is of course say ‘stuff em’ and build your own network of connections.  Building your own group of connections means you limit your isolation.  The down side of this is that you are not even on the horizon of the ‘dominant’ group where, for the most part, the power lies.

So what can we do to change the status quo? Here are four tips:

– Look closely. Just because the dominant group are maybe white and male, are lawyers, are engineers… doesn’t mean they are automatically in the ‘inner circle’. You’ll be surprised how many are not.  Yes they may be included where you are not, but that does not mean they are in the ’inner circle’.  How does this help you though? Well it means there are allies there for you that perhaps you haven’t realised or considered.

– Find out who they really value.  Whilst they are part of this inner network, it doesn’t mean that they all rate each other equally.  This is something many people are surprised to learn – we think it is a sine qua non. Information is power, so finding out who each one really values in the team is key.  I’ve shared this tip with many clients. Each time they have found what they learned was not what they expected, which in turn was incredibly useful to know.

– Know how you can add value. This can be something as simple as keeping secrets. More often than not, we confide in people we don’t know as well.  Why is that?  When sharing a problem or a worry we are looking for someone who we believe can empathise.  Knowing how you can add value means that you can step in to offer.  Helping someone out of a hole builds trust and credibility.  It may not get you to the inner circle,  but it definitely gets you closer.

– Believe in equal treatment. When we treat everyone equally we send a message – I get on with everyone.  Whilst no one likes to feel excluded it happens to most of us and most of us at some point have done it to someone else too.  Whether it is intentional or not, the outcome is the same.

The best approach, therefore, is to play both sides of the field. Try, of course, to network and get as close as you can to the ‘in-group’, but never fail to neglect to build your own network,  in and outside of your organisation.