You may have heard at least one of these sayings throughout the course of your career: “It isn't what you know but who you know" and “Your network is your net worth.”
Ring any bells? Having access to the right people and building valuable relationships has proven to be a catalyst for career success—but having that kind of access to opportunities is a separate issue.
For people of color in particular, access has always been a challenge—even in times when doors were, quite literally, open to in-person interviews and events. Now that many of these entry points have been shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, barriers to entry for people of color in the social-impact sector are even harder to cross.
So how can people of color successfully network remotely? This article explores the impact that networking has on equality, how these impacts transfer over into the remote world for people of color, and steps professionals can take to maximize their opportunities for growth.
Networking challenges for professionals of color
For people of color, networking has always been a challenge. Bias, lack of access, and even stereotypes have prevented people of color from having the same development opportunities as other groups. Having a social identity not considered to be a part of the majority, within any space, has consistently created barriers. Social and professional networking is an important factor in creating connections that can aid in career advancement. However, people of color have less access to these opportunities.
Now that the ability to socialize, in the traditional sense, has become almost nonexistent due to the pandemic, the networking challenges that people of color face have become even more problematic. With remote work, people of color have become even less visible, making it even more difficult to build relationships that will help their advancement. But all is not lost. There are several ways that people can not only stay connected during the pandemic, but build a solid network that can carry them through it.
Staying connected during a pandemic
A recent Harvard Business Review article offers six ways people of color can stay connected and leverage networking during the pandemic.
1. Re-activate dormant connections. Utilize your social media platforms. Send a message to colleagues and friends that life and work has not allowed you to maintain contact with. Re-establish the connection, share information, and become a resource for each other.
2. Participate in learning communities. In-person gatherings may be a thing of the past for the near future, but that does not mean they are not happening. Most conferences, seminars, meet-ups are now taking place online. Take advantage of being in the “room” and conversing with far more people that you could have if you were in a physical space.
3. Maintain periodic outreach to champions and sponsors. Champion and sponsor relationships may be the most important you can have within an organization. Just because you no longer have the opportunity to have lunch with them, or make a pit stop in their office on your way to a meeting, does not mean that the connection is no longer there. When you can, send them an email or schedule a Zoom meeting to keep them updated on what you’re up to—and ask them how they are faring as well.
4. Network through community service. Most connections within the communities of people of color, in particular African Americans are informal and form through service, generally within their own communities or over shared interests. A recent Catalyst report discusses the different networking strategies of women of color, and note that informal networking is the strategy most employed. Some may argue that this may not be the best strategy, but it does yield beneficial relationships.
5. Focus on shared networks and organize group networking. Are you part of an alumni network, fraternity or sorority, or other collective? If you aren’t, consider starting one. Roberts and Mayo write, “These unique forms of shared networks also provide rich contexts of cultural familiarity, which helps workers and their families to create a sense of community in companies and cities where they may be demographically underrepresented”.
6. Participate in remote employee resource groups. There is some research that suggest that employee resource groups are not as valuable as people think, but there is overwhelming supportive evidence that suggests they are, when they are done right. Employee resource groups can be used as an instrument for marginalized employees to build community and visibility within organizations. Not only does the research community support this, but the practitioner community does as well.
Take stock in your social capital
Creating and participating in networks is important, but making sure they're delivering value to you is even more so. It is great to connect with people and build relationships, but there has to be a return on your investment. You should focus on the quality of your networks, not the quantity.
Wherever you are spending your time and resources, you should receive the outcome you are looking for. Whether you are connecting for the first time, or reconnecting because you lost touch, joining a network or starting one, your efforts should provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. The immediate outcome does not have to be a new job offer—but your networks should have the potential to lead you there.
How have you kept up networking during the COVID-19 pandemic? Let us know on Facebook.
Dr. Waajida L. Small is a human resources executive who has worked in the public and non-profit sectors for over 15 years. She is a certified leadership and executive coach, human capital strategist and certified purpose leader. Dr. Small is the author of "Our Leadership Journey: Shared Stories, Lessons and Advice for Women of Color", a book for women of color on the rise into positions of leadership and influence in their organizations, industries and communities.