Common challenges in networking

What is are common networking challenges?

There are many factors that influence our relationships and our ability to network, especially when we are asking for help or seeking access to resources. There are individual challenges like personality traits, disability (auditory, visual, sensory, physical), language barriers, socioeconomic gaps and even a negative experience with a previous mentor. There are also societal networking challenges like privilege, power, stereotypes and discrimination.

Priviledge, a generally unearned advantage and belief that benefits some, often at the expense of others. Privilege may influence social capital and attempts to network. Individuals with socioeconomic privilege may have easy access to a wealthier and better educated set of people who may be relatives, friends of relatives, neighbors, classmates, or parents of classmates. People in their networks may be more willing to meet with them or provide them with advice or access to resources. Privilege can provide many advantages and is one reason why nepotism and affirmative action laws have been created.

Power is the ability to control circumstances. Power can also influence social capital and attempts to network. Once someone obtains power in the workplace or most situations, they can serve as a gatekeeper to resources. Someone in power can facilitate networking or set-up barriers to networking that can be difficult to overcome. Networking with someone in power at a workplace or in a profession, and making a favorable impression, one can often more readily obtain information or resources. Networking, in general, is important as well – not just with people in power or who are privileged.

Stereotypes are mental images of a group based upon opinion without regard to individual differences. Stereotypes may influence if someone has a mental image of a group that you are in, like believing women are going to quit their jobs and stay home to have children, and covertly or overtly generalize about you without really knowing about you as an individual. Stereotypes can positively or negatively affect someone’s options and opportunities.

Discrimination is treating people in a less favorable way because they are members of a particular group. Discrimination is prejudice in action. Discrimination is actively treating people in a hurtful or unhelpful or negative way. In terms of networking, you could mention that if someone engages in discrimination towards other people, then they may block their ability to network and refuse to help them. They might even give them misinformation. When that happens, it becomes oppression – a system that gives certain people power and privilege at the expense of other people.

How can you deal with some of these challenges?

It’s possible that personal and societal challenges will leave you with an unread or unreplied email. But don’t take it personally, there are many other reasons why the person you emailed didn’t get back to you. People react in different ways when they are approached, some may be enthusiastic and receptive to meeting while others will not not. Some people are shy or reserved, generally unfriendly, distracted, busy, sick, socially awkward or uncomfortable or perhaps your email went to their spam folder. It may have nothing to do with your request or you as an individual! For every rejection, there will be many acceptances. Just keep trying and don’t give up.

Why is it important to know the common challenges to networking?

The societal challenges alert us that although you may try your best to find a mentor in your field, challenges associated with prejudice and discrimination may get in the way. One thing to remember is that if you experience rejection, it may not have anything to do with you as a person. It may reflect biases or prejudice of an individual person, or larger issues that are outside of you that are more systemic to the culture. Just as there is research about discrimination, there is also research that highlights positive, strength-based experiences that students may have in relationships with others or based on systemic factors (e.g., at the university, organization, career field level).

Pro Tip

Don’t give up! Even if you may have to contact more than one potential mentor to find people who are the best fit for addressing your needs and who are willing to make a commitment to mentoring you.