In 2019, I was selected as a Venture Capital for Africa (VC4A) mentor. VC4A is a Netherlands-based organization that connects startups to opportunities. During the programme, I noticed that majority of the men who were selected (mentors and mentees) were very outspoken, and had no problems connecting or networking with other men. However, I also observed that many of the women who were selected (mentors and mentees) were walking up to the men (than the women) and having a conversation. At first glance, this may not be seen as a problem and there were no rules on "who to connect with" but it got me a bit worried because it was an opportunity for the women to get to know each other, network and possibly build new friendships but it looked like majority of them were waiting for "who will be the first to talk to each other." Now, the main reason this caught my attention was because I have also been at gatherings and conferences where the same "scenario" played out.
Studies have shown that networking is important to help women navigate their career paths and it is not just for personal or professional growth but also when one might be about to commit a "career suicide."
In Africa there are a lot of cultural barriers and women are mostly seen as child-bearers and home managers. For example, some families in the South-East region in Nigeria tend to value their male child over their female child and often advise their female children to be “submissive and humble” so as to attract “a good man” for marriage. According to a 2016 study by Venture Capital for Africa, only 9% of startups in Africa have women leaders and in 2015, CNN reported that in the technology industry, few women attempt startups.
Networking skills are not just important as we climb the ladder of success but I also think it is something that can be learned, and practiced. Some women feel uncomfortable with networking — putting themselves out there or promoting themselves but I have also learned that networking can help you step out of your comfort zone and propel you to do great things.