Karina Sanchez, an intellectual property attorney in Orlando, says she’s grown her professional network by about 20 people a month since the shift to remote work. “There are more opportunities to network because everything is much more accessible,” says Sanchez, who started her own firm, K. J. Sanchez Law, in January 2021. “Before, you would have to choose between networking events, whereas now, you can do multiple in one evening. Also, a lot of the intimidation of an in-person networking event is removed and it is a bit easier because you are online and the events are usually guided.”
Remote networking also has allowed Sanchez to feel more comfortable interacting with men. “Before I would stick to talking with women,” she says. “Now if there is a man in the [virtual] networking group, I’m more willing to engage because, with everyone watching, the conversation remains focused on the topic and they can’t flirt.”
Sanchez’s experience is not unique. During the pandemic, women have been able to maintain and even grow their professional networks.
Men’s professional networks shrank by more than 450 people or close to 30% since last March while women’s networks hardly shrank at all, according to Yale School of Management professor Marissa King and her research on COVID-19’s effect on the professional networks of women and men. King also found that women’s networks have greater gender diversity post-pandemic. While some of King’s research was used in a recent study on Social Networks and Loneliness During the COVID-19 Pandemic, some of the data specific to gender differences in professional networking wasn’t published in the final study.
King believes the reason women’s professional networks have stayed intact during the pandemic is that men and women fundamentally maintain relationships differently. While women tend to talk with each other, men tend to do things together, King says. With the pandemic disrupting men’s ability to get together, they are losing ground with their professional networks, she says.
“Women are taught to share, to be communal and to form relationships of mutuality.”
“Disruptions to your network can have long-term consequences,” King says. “It’s rare for someone to rebuild their network. Women’s networks have showed to be far more resilient.”
“Women are taught to share, to be communal and to form relationships of mutuality,” says Nancy Halpern, founder of Political IQ, a New York City-based management consulting firm that helps organizations resolve office politics. Women are also more likely than men to seek out others when they need support, and with so many women balancing work and family, it’s not surprising they would reach out to their network more often in 2020, she says.
To some extend, virtual network may have a leveling effect on women's abilities to maintain, and even strengthen, their networks, says Anne Shoemaker, a women's executive coach and strategist based in Greensboro, N.C. “Juggling multiple relationships simultaneously is necessary for their advancement at work and their ability to keep their heads above water at home,” she says. “Technology has provided them with a time efficient way to juggle it all while also getting the support and encouragement they need to do so.”
Virtual networking also removes any possible discomfort around men and women interacting with each other. Even before #MeToo, male and female work colleagues were hesitant to interact with each other outside the office. In July 2017, Morning Consult conducted a poll for The New York Times about men and women in the workplace and nearly two-thirds said employees should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men in the poll, said it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than your spouse.
“Meeting a male associate for coffee one-on-one over Zoom bears less stigma, less threat to one's career, and less likelihood for misunderstandings and workplace rumors than an in-person, one-on-one cross-gender meeting at any time of day at any location,” Shoemaker says.
Many believe virtual networking with continue to grow, even after the pandemic ends, because it is much more efficient than in-person events. “Pre-pandemic you would go to random networking events and hope to hit the lottery” by meeting the right people, Halpern says. Most virtual networking events are facilitated, making it easier to have conversations, and everyone’s name is displayed on the screen so there’s no need to introduce yourself, Sanchez says. If you hear someone discussing a topic you’re interested in, it’s easy to reach out for one-on-one virtual coffee.
“I've been able to get ‘Zoom coffees’ at least once a week through introductions and grow my founder network extensively,” says Dana Levin-Robinson, CEO and co-founder of Upfront, a site dedicated to price transparency in daycare services. “If anything, I think the lack of travel has made schedules a lot more open than before.”
The lack of in-person interaction also provides a built-in reason to reach out to colleagues, says Karen Wickre, author of Taking the Work Out of Networking: Your Guide to Making and Keeping Great Connections. “Just ask how they’re doing, how they’re finding working from home,” she says. “You don’t need to have an agenda or a favor to ask.”