LinkedIn is a great tool, but it mainly shows you who went to the same colleges, share friends in common, or worked for the same company. These are important things to know when networking, but it also tends to connect you with people who are similar to you. Sameness is not how we build strength. We achieve more when we have diversity in our lives. While we may be easily drawn to people with whom we have similarities, there is power in have connections with people who are different from you in background and thought. I have been speaking about networking skills for 15 years (he is NOT a diversity speaker), but recently has been looking at ways to encourage people to expand their networks with an intention for diversity.
The importance of diversity is evident in our modern times. Gone are the days of exclusion. Thought leaders and inspirational speakers have been talking about diversity and inclusion for 20 years, but in 2020 and beyond this topic a nice to have subject. Keynote speakers like the award winning inclusion speaker Jessica Pettitt show audiences across industries the ways to overcome adversity and embrace diversity (If you are seeking a diversity speaker, call Jessica today!). It is proven that companies who are inclusive of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc… find more success. The same is true for individuals that connected to people from many backgrounds and with diverse beliefs.
I am currently interviewing experts and diversity speakers about how to be purposeful in expanding a network to be more inclusive. As a middle aged white male this may not be a topic you expect me to be interested in discovering and putting into practice. However, know it is of the utmost importance to me and my clients that I insert this topic into my work. People who want to excel must get out of all comfort zones. There are many areas of diversity that are not thought about when it comes to connections, networking, and learning. An article I found in my research on Builtin.com listed a guide to 34 diversity characteristics in the workplace (and the author stated it was not the full list).
An April 2018 article in the Harvard Business Journal, “How to Diversify Your Professional Network“, also addresses this topic. Studies show that people who are connected across heterogeneous groups and who have more-diverse contacts have more creative ideas and come up with original solutions. Another post on Forbes, “The Importance of Network Diversity” (October 2019), backs this up talking about a “lack of diversity within networks can propagate inequitable systems and create echo chambers of perspective. My own goal to stop the echo chamber effect that has pushed me to explore how to expand my own network and discover new people of any number of backgrounds.
Live Meetings and Associations
I believe that trade associations and other groups that host live conferences are key to this success. Too often at big events people hang around with people they know, and when in networking situations they gravitate toward people with whom they have things in common. The biggest split is by generations. Place 1000 people in a room from all four generations and the baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z participants will cluster with those close to their own age. The same is often true by gender, race, etc… And it need not be this way. People are more alike than they are different.
In my Keynote Speech: “The Secret Weapon: Connecting with People in a Gadget Crazed World“, I am adding content to encourage people to engage while live at the conference with people with whom on the surface they may not see the similarities. This is not only a race, gender, or age issue, but also job title and experience divide. I want to clearly state that I am not a diversity speaker. If your purpose is training in this area, I can put you in touch with several professional speakers. But if networking and maximizing the power of your connections is an important topic for your company meeting or association event, then let’s talk.
Inclusion and Diversity Speakers
This topic is extensive and should not be treated lightly. Again, I am not a diversity speaker, even though my presentations are taking into account the importance of being more intentional and inclusive in your networking efforts. Below is a list of a few experienced Inclusion and Diversity Speakers if you are seeking that topic for your next event.
Build A Diverse Network
Diversity in your network is an advanced level discussion. In our gadget crazed world people are seeking short cuts to like, links, shares, and follows. Simply sending friend requests to someone of a different race and think that social media connections to people of color is the answer, you will not find the level of business success you are seeking. Plus diversity is not just about the color of a person’s skin. To really build connections of diversity you must invest your time and attention in establishing relationships with other humans of all types of backgrounds. Learning to recognize your own unconscious bias is a first step.
The secret weapon to career growth is your network. The people you meet and with whom you cultivate meaningful relationships is how you will learn and grow. This is also the fastest path to uncovering opportunities. If all your contacts look like you and think like you, you are missing out on a great big world. My keynote on networking has been challenging people to engage more at conferences for over 15 years. But the talk changes and morphs over time and to every audience. Again, he is not a diversity speaker, but his understanding of why we want a diverse network has become an important part of his teaching.
Thom Singer is a keynotes speaker and corporate master of ceremonies / EmCee. He is the author of 12 books and the host of two popular business podcasts.