In recognition of International Women’s Day 2021, Kate Graham, head of content for Fosway, and I contacted several women active in the L&D space to invite them to share their ideas on success, career paths, and missteps and obstacles. One area of discussion was the value of—and tips for—networking. Interesting themes included working with one’s own introversion (tip: start by helping others) and avoiding the problem of becoming a full-time networker. See the full research report for more from the women in L&D that were profiled.

Gemma Critchley Paterson

Head of People Development Experiences & Innovation, Legal & General, United Kingdom

Networking has been the most important thing when it's come to building my career and furthering my own development. I would say to other women (and people of all genders!), put yourself out there. Join Twitter chats, ask people for a virtual coffee, go to online events—be part of the conversation and be curious. If you don't feel like you have a contribution to make, just listen and be curious. The L&D community is so supportive—I've not seen one like it in other industries.

Rachel Walter Hutchinson

Director, Learning and Development, Hilti, Inc., United Kingdom

Networking is what keeps me fresh. It keeps me from becoming insular to a specific organization and helps me to innovate. It lets me see connections and trends more quickly. I highly advise people to build a network, internal and external, and to nurture it. Make it as diverse as possible—people who are entrepreneurs will look at this differently than someone who is 30 years in the same company. Don't limit yourself to gender or industry. Go broad and use it as experience exchanges that ebb and flow over time.

Mirjam Neelen

Head of Global Learning Design & Learning Sciences, Novartis, Ireland

[Networking’s] been HUGE. I wouldn't have been where I am now without my network. If you want to drive change and keep improving yourself and others, you need a network. My advice: start with helping others where you can and/or ask questions. Show who you are. Trigger others' interest/curiosity. Be authentic. Have genuine conversations. Look for those people who can help you progress by asking YOU good questions and by challenging your thinking. Look for people with different strengths than yours. Don't just look for like-minded people.

Megan Torrance

CEO, Torrance Learning, USA

I like to distinguish networkING from building a strategic network. NetworkING—going to events, meeting people—can help you stumble on the right person or opportunity. I find it really too social for my comfort level. I prefer building a strategic network—identifying who (or the types of ) people you need to have relationships with, the types of relationships you need, and then working to establish those relationships through give and take. This also requires getting out and meeting people, for sure, but it's less of a numbers game. Tip: If you're uncomfortable getting out, find someone who has a great network that also works for you, and ask to be included.

Wendy Gates Corbett

President, Signature Presentations LLC, USA

Networking has played a huge role in my career, both within the training industry and beyond. When I was a department of one, working for companies that didn't 'get' training, participating in professional organizations gave me the opportunity to meet other training professionals, build relationships, and talk with people who got it. Those relationships led to personal and professional development and to professional opportunities. Since I've become a business owner, networking has been a huge part of my marketing and expanding my brand awareness; it's how I become known as the Slide Lady, the Presentation Lady, and the Belonging Person. Tips for networking: It's possible to be a full-time networker if you don't guard and prioritize your time. Make sure that the kind of people you want to meet, whether peers or potential clients, are going to events you attend. I've substantially cut down on my networking. Finally, pay close attention to the person you're talking with. The more they talk (as opposed to you talking) the better. Practice your active listening.

Kindra Dionne

CEO, Purposeworx, USA

Networking has been a game changer in my career. Being intentional about meeting others and developing meaningful connections has positioned me as a "go-to" resource for referrals and recommendations. I always have a Rolodex full of people to connect others to as needed.

Pooja Jaisingh

Lead eLearning Evangelist, Adobe, India

Networking has played a major role in my career. The main thing I look for in my PLNs and conferences is the opportunity to network with others in the industry and learn from them. The learning industry is full of wonderful people and you are an important part of it. Don't shy away from seeking guidance. You'll be surprised to see how many of them are eager to help you. And once you are comfortable in your space, don't forget to help others who are new to the industry. That's how we can keep it going!

Shanté Mahal

HR Leadership Team-Data Architecture and Analytics, Coty, USA

I think networking is key to helping you understand that you are not alone; that all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions have been experienced by others. Networking is crucial for people understanding the real you; the you behind the PowerPoint. I would recommend to connect, collaborate, and celebrate. You never know who you might meet.

In conclusion

The role others can play in one’s career came up time and again in the full report, which included conversation about mentors and managers. As one participant said, “I didn’t do this alone.”

See the full report Women in Learning: Choosing to Challenge for more.

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