'Bashful Brit' women lose out in networking

Occupational Psychology Conference: National behaviour patterns could limit business opportunities

Women in professional jobs conform to all the national stereotypes - bashful Brits, sociable Spaniards and assertive Americans, according to an occupational psychologist.

As business becomes more international, there is a danger it will all end in mutual misunderstanding: American women risk being dismissed as "pushy", Spanish women as "unfocused" and the British as "aloof". Cultural differences could limit the success of women outside their own country.

When they "network" with other females in similar professions with personal advancement in mind, the British tend to be stand-offish and to lack self- confidence, Carole Pemberton of the Sunridge Park Management Centre told the annual occupational psychology conference of the British Psychological Society in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

British women use networking to learn from colleagues in more senior positions. "They want to be near powerful people, but they believe they should network over much longer timescales so that people gradually discover their talent.

"They back off from the more overt pushy approach of the Americans," Ms Pemberton said.

The Brits are never quite sure when or how to follow up a social contact with a conversation about business.

When a British woman goes to the United States they may be tempted to hover on the fringes of a social gathering expecting to be noticed by someone important. She will find, however, that American colleagues will be "in there presenting themselves".

Americans see networking occasions as an "arena for trading business cards". They tend to "work the room", moving on rapidly from conversation which is unlikely to elicit employment or business opportunities. "If they don't get rapid pay-offs from belonging to a network, they're off very rapidly," Ms Pemberton said.

The Spanish, however, are more "laid back" and network to be sociable and to have fun with people they like. They not so much work the room as "expand into it", Ms Pemberton said. "Having fun seems to be the main point."

The researchers' conclusions were drawn from a study of the European Women's Management Development Network which operates in 17 countries, including the United States, and aims to promote the cause of women in business.

The organisation wanted to know whether women who held high-level posts joined and left networks for the same reasons, understood that the success of such contacts depended on the same skills and saw the same benefits in membership.

Ms Pemberton argued there was a growing danger that women who worked "outside their culture" would fail to get the support they needed from peers because their approach was misunderstood.

It was necessary for women to establish these networks in order to compete with men who enjoyed long-established points of contact. As job markets become more fragmented, networking was an increasingly important method of securing employment, Ms Pember- ton contended.

"While women sometimes belong to golf clubs, unlike men very few of them get jobs through membership," she said.

Some people were filled with dread about entering a room and introducing themselves to strangers, but it was necessary if women were ambitious.

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