The goal of the series is to explore the unique business challenges and opportunities ofunderrepresented business owners. Learn how they grew their businesses, explored entrepreneurial ventures within their companies, or created side hustles, and how their stories can inspire and inform your own success.

Networking is connecting with other business professionals, building relationships, and diving into your story to establish the "why" behind your work.

It is possible to find a middle ground of opportunity, collaboration, and collective problem-solving with effective networking. Professionals are often told to build their networks because of the power of networking.

It's difficult because people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer have historically been underrepresented and left out of the very spaces that are necessary to be in to make those valuable connections.

In this post, we will discuss how networking can be a challenge for LGBTQ+ professionals, where they can network, and how to network successfully.

Why is networking a challenge for LGBTQ+ professionals?

The lack of representation in leadership roles can make it difficult to network with people of the same sexual orientation.

According to a June 2020 report from McKinsey & Company, only 1.6 percent of managers are openly LGBTQ+ women. 2.5% of senior managers/directors, 2% of vice presidents, and 2% of senior vice presidents are male.

Finding people to network with that share the same values and experiences can be difficult, which is why events for LGBTQ+ professionals are a good place to start.

Where can LGBTQ+ people network?

Conferences and events can be used to shift the narrative on representation as they provide opportunities for people of the same sex to network. A benefit of networking at conferences is that they typically have a sense of community.

According to research, the built-in community environment of conferences can be helpful for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer. Conferences give attendees access to industry leaders they otherwise wouldn't meet, so they can share their stories, experiences, and expertise with one another.

The power of networking at conferences can be harnessed by the queer community. This is an important question to answer as events return in full force in 2022.

8 Networking Tips for LGBTQ+ Professionals

After being out of practice for a long time, it can be hard to return to in-person or hybrid networking. There are tips to help you maximize your opportunities.

1. Find the conference or event’s target audience.

The first thing you need to do is know who your audience is. Are you going to the Lesbians Who Tech & Allies and The Out & Equal Workplace Summit or is it a general industry-wide conference?

It is easier to create a plan of action when you have this information.

2. Create a 360 plan.

You can make a plan based on what you know about your audience once you know them. Establishing the tools you'll use to follow up after meeting new contacts is an important part of a good networking plan.

A great strategy is to develop a post- conference spreadsheet of the contacts you met, organize the spreadsheet by industry or company, and include notes about your interactions.

As you develop your conference networking plan, there are other questions to consider.

  • Who do you want to connect with? — Are there specific individuals, people from specific organizations, companies, or industries?
  • What do you want to know? — Are you interested in exploring current industry trends, challenges that people in similar roles to you are having, or any new projects people are working on?

There are three. Clear expectations and goals can be established.

Clear expectations and goals are a part of your plan. Doing this will help you manage your time better and avoid the feeling of overwhelm that can come from the pressure to connect with as many people as possible.

These goals and expectations need to be clearly stated. It's important to be realistic. It could be for example.

  • “I want to walk away with x number of new contacts” — If you are going to use #’s as metrics, be realistic about this. Bigger/more is NOT always better.
  • “I want to connect with people from x organization or company.”
  • “I want to share my experiences doing x with x people.”

4. Set personal boundaries.

Setting clear goals and expectations is just one of the things you should do.

The old adage is that more is better when it comes to networking.

Setting boundaries can mean not accepting people who are different from you, asking questions to make sure your expertise is not being taken advantage of, and honoring yourself and your needs as you meet new people.

5. Take advantage of tech tools for connecting.

Tech tools should be included in your networking plan.

Conferences use apps that allow attendees to make profiles, share contact information, and more. You can use these tech tools to identify people you want to connect with.

Ensure your profiles are current before you attend the event. During and after a conference, LinkedIn can be a great way to connect.

6. Connect for community, not clout (and appreciate the slow build).

If you can do this for me, I'll do this for you. Building genuine relationships is important.

People are getting used to reestablishing and networking after the COVID-19 Pandemic. If you are trying to break into a new industry or field it can take more time to establish those connections.

7. Share your unique story.

Your story is the most important part of who you are and what you do. You should come up with 3-4 core talking points of who you are and why you want to talk to them.

The next step is to have materials ready to showcase who you are, examples of your work, and how to contact you.

8. Take breaks.

Break during the conference day. Even if they aren't included in the event schedule, build them into your schedule. You don't have to attend all of the sessions at conferences and events.

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The story was originally published on September 26.