Networking across gender lines
By Leslie T. Snadowsky
Cristina and Ron Kirby are co-executive directors of BNI South Carolina Lowcountry. It’s a franchise of Business Network International (BNI), the world’s largest business networking and referral organization with a mission to help businesses grow and scale. The Kirbys also happen to be married, and their yin and yang helped create safe and productive environments for male and female businesspeople to network. They said their efforts are based on one core principle, respect.
“Everyone is treated exactly the same,” Ron said. “There’s no difference whether you’re a man or a woman. Everyone’s treated with the same respect and dignity at our meetings and events. The environment is created as a safe space for business owners who become business partners and do business together.”
BNI founder, Ivan Misner, wrote a 2012 book titled Business Networking And Sex: Not What You Think. In it he explores how men and women network and relate to one another in the workforce. Misner found men are transactional and rely on credentials for credibility, and women are more in tune with relationships while networking and want to build trust before doing business.
In their experience the Kirbys find women are more communicative when networking with the opposite sex.
“Women make better networkers than men because women listen more intently,” Ron said. “And men, we sometimes think we know more, but women will always ask questions, and that’s what makes them better networkers.”
“It’s not really about opposite sexes but about how we see things and our visions,” Cristina added. “It is said that women are driven somewhat more by emotions, and men are viewed as being more practical. To me that makes a great combination. We complement each other and there’s value in seeing the point of view of the other, which otherwise would be missed.”
BNI South Carolina Lowcountry encompasses 36 regional chapters with a combined 722 members who take advantage of networking opportunities and lifelong learning initiatives. The Kirbys facilitate a structured, positive and professional referral marketing program that enables members to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with quality business professionals.
Cristina said she has found women network more than men because they are more outgoing. “They’re actually the ones who start the conversations,” she said. “Men and women both equally like to network, but they have a different approach. They both bring something different to the table, but equally valuable.”
Find safe spaces
In the age of #MeToo it’s not unusual for both men and women to be cautious about where, why and how to meet when networking. It helps to be specific about the reasons and helps keep the meeting in the context of business, not romance.
At BNI South Carolina Lowcountry’s networking events, Cristina said there’s no confusion. “When we set up networking and social events, there are always numerous people in the room,” she said. “It’s important for both parties to be represented and work together and never feel they have to worry about their safety. At BNI we create a safe environment, and we all share a positive and supportive attitude. It’s about getting to know each other professionally so they know how to relate and work with each other better.”
BNI asserts networking is more about forming connections with new contacts than hunting for them. People want to do business with people they know and trust. It’s about cultivating those relationships.
“Networking is socializing and people like to come out of their shells and meet with others,” Cristina said. “To create things together, we help the community get stronger by facilitating opportunities for our members to get to know each other with transparency and communication. And that’s why our members join BNI because they see this platform supports them and benefits their businesses as well.
“If we didn’t network, we would become robots, but now even the robots are socializing,” Cristina laughed. “Networking and socializing are just part of the human nature. We like to spend time together. While we are different, when it comes to our ideas and concepts, we’re curious to hear other points of view and ideas. That’s how you brainstorm. We get together and exchange ideas, and sometimes agree to disagree, because otherwise it would be so boring to all have the same opinion. It’s just part of being human.”
In 2022 BNI South Carolina Lowcountry members reported income in excess of $50 million in new business from BNI referrals. The underlying philosophy of BNI is that by giving business to others, you will get business in return.
“Everybody needs a network of people that supports them, having special trust and confidence in and knowing that they can go to them and that they’re going to do a great job,” Ron said. “Our philosophy is you give referrals to gain referrals, and it all comes about by building powerful professional relationships whether you’re a man or a woman.”