Imagine you’re at a large networking event. The room is full of people—around 300 professionals are in attendance. Some are passing out business cards. Others have gathered into smaller, more intimate groups to talk and get to know one another.
People are arriving from various places across the country. Almost every professional background you can think of is represented within this 1 room. But out of the hundreds of people in attendance, you look around and notice only a small handful of people are there who look like you.
For many people of color, situations like this happen all the time. For some, these instances emphasize their suppressed feelings of not belonging—and make them question whether networking actually works. For others, these events are opportunities to show their value, demonstrate their worth, and form lasting business relationships.
In this article, we’ll discuss the challenges people of color experience when networking. We’ll also provide a few tips on how to network effectively.
As a person of color, you may have found it difficult to network with other groups of people. Some of these challenges are due to bias, stereotypes, and having fewer opportunities than other groups. Other challenges are due to feelings of not belonging—thinking you’ll stick out like a sore thumb at any networking event because you’re not a part of the majority.
Sometimes, people of color have limited networking circles, which further decreases the chance to form connections. An African American C-suite executive, for example, may struggle to find other African American professionals in her field who she can connect with.
Due to the pandemic, the ability to gather as we did before has been nonexistent. Because networking is all about building relationships and getting seen by the right people, working remotely can make people of color less visible than ever before.
As a person of color, you can still connect with the right people, expand your reach, and form business relationships. Below, we’ve got 3 simple networking tips to help you get started.
To build your network during the pandemic, you need to start by establishing yourself on social media. With millions of people on different social networking sites, you will likely find someone—whether it’s a close friend or a work colleague—to instantly connect with.
Another way to use social media is to visit the different social networking platforms and join in on the conversations of others. First, take a look at what everyone else is talking about and see what topics get the most attention. Then, post engaging content that will encourage others to connect with you.
As a person of color, you may find the online atmosphere to be fair competition. As long as you’re providing valuable information and interacting on a regular basis, you can build up your social media presence and find new people to connect with.
To start building connections on social media, start with any of these 4 platforms.
If you already have personal profiles on these sites, consider creating separate profiles for business and networking purposes. It will help ensure you always present a professional image at all times.
Now that the world is opening back up, you may find increased opportunities for charity work and community service. These activities may make you more enthusiastic, especially if you prefer connecting with people in person.
Another benefit of volunteering is the impact you get to make on people’s lives. You can choose to help anyone from underserved people to those living in marginalized communities. These community events are also likely to connect you with other people who share your passion.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, sometimes the best thing you can do is start from scratch. Consider creating a mastermind group full of people with similar interests who want to achieve the same goals as you. You can meet with members regularly, whether virtually or in person—to provide feedback and hold each other accountable.
To begin your group, start with who you know. You may already be acquainted with other professionals who would be a good fit. Then, find out who those people are connected with to expand the group.
Your group can be as large or as small as you like. Smaller groups are great (like those containing less than 15 people) because of the increased intimacy, which allows you to build a deeper connection. Larger groups (like those containing up to 300 members) have another advantage: you get the opportunity to network with hundreds of people who all share your same passion.
Networking is a matter of perspective. Not only is it about how others see you, but it’s also about how you see yourself. Nurturing feelings of insecurity will keep you stuck—and make it almost impossible for you to move forward.
Don’t look at being a person of color as a disadvantage. You may belong to a small minority, but if you have the skills, talents, and abilities, you can still make connections and form lasting business relationships.