“Everyone showed up to talk to the white guy beside me. I was invisible.”
This comment caught me off guard because it came from a woman healthcare executive I admire, and I could not imagine anyone dismissing her so quickly. We’d been talking about our experiences at healthcare networking events. She shared that she’s often brushed aside as a woman of color even though her title is as fancy as everyone else in the room.
While initially surprised by her comment, I appreciated her perspective. Some networks give the cold shoulder (or worse) to women and people of color, who may feel like second-class professionals at in-person events. Being shut out or dismissed has a chilling effect that leads women to drop out of networking spaces essential for securing their next collaboration, promotion, or executive role.
While a warm welcome is not guaranteed, there are proactive strategies that women and people with underrepresented identities can use to warm up the room and make meaningful connections at professional networking events.
A recent experience comes to mind. I traveled to Chicago to attend ACHE. It was my first time. I felt uncertain about who would be there and how I’d fit in. And yet, walking off the plane, I knew I wouldn’t have to navigate the conference alone.
Before the event, I had worked my network and set up several meetings with women leaders I knew or wanted to meet. We had coffee, and lunch, and exchanged smiles as we passed each other in the halls. Landing at the conference already connected to a supportive community allowed me to maximize my engagement in the event. I had more energy to be outgoing, introduce myself, and invest in new connections. The whole conference became downright enjoyable.
With this experience in mind, here are three strategies to help you navigate healthcare networking events like a pro.
Use social media to network in advance.
Start with the connections you have and invest in deepening these relationships online. Do your best to determine who in your network will attend professional events that matter to you. But don’t limit your networking to social media platforms.
Make sure you build your professional network by connecting with members of your professional association. Comb through your professional membership directories, start a Slack channel, meet up for a virtual coffee, and make plans to connect over a meal at in-person networking events.
Choose an empowering mantra.
Having an empowering mantra, which is a simple word or phrase that you repeat, such as, “I bring a unique perspective to this space” or “I am the equal of everyone in this room,” will give you the courage to step into events and situations that are new or uncomfortable.
A mantra will help you to bring your whole self into interactions and stay fully present when getting to know new people. Take a breath, repeat the phrase, and remind yourself you belong. Then walk into that room and introduce yourself with the expectation that you will make meaningful connections—just as you are because you are enough.
Work the white guy’s line.
Remember, some rooms weren’t designed with you in mind. So, the next time you walk into a room where everyone wants to talk to the same white guy, give yourself a few moments to regroup and then take advantage of the situation.
Because guess what? While they’re all standing around waiting for his attention, you can work his line. It may be uncomfortable but put yourself out there. Take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the people waiting to speak to the presenter, and be curious about the people you meet. You may be surprised by the allies you meet and the connections you make.
Walking into unfamiliar professional events can be intimidating, but that’s no reason to sit back and let the event happen to you. You can transform the most impersonal networking events into productive spaces with some grit, intentionality, and advanced legwork.
Putting in more effort will help you build meaningful connections with people who share your values. As you know, in the world of work, relationships matter, and it’s up to you to build relationships that support you in achieving your professional goals while staying true to who you are.
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