The following article is adapted from Amy C. Waninger’s book, Network Beyond Bias: Making Diversity a Competitive Advantage for Your Career.
Is your professional network as diverse as the workforce and community around you? If not, you could be missing important opportunities for your career. We all face challenges in making meaningful connections, especially with people who differ from us in significant ways. Few of us consider the impacts of these missed connections. Even fewer know how to recognize and overcome them. Yet we must do so, urgently, if we are to compete, collaborate, and create in the modern world.
The old question for success was “What do you know?” In the information age, though, we all have access to Google. Knowledge has become a commodity and is taken for granted. What you should be asking yourself instead is “What can you do, and who do you know?” In our global, social media-driven, freelancing economy, it has never been easier to get to know a wide variety of people. Variety is the secret ingredient for getting the most from – and providing the most value to – your network.
You’ve probably heard that “your network is your net worth.”¹ Let’s think about that for a moment. Your network is an investment, like your 401(k). You wouldn’t put your life savings into just one company’s stock. Nor would you pick your investment portfolio based on where your friends or cousins or sorority sisters work. You would diversify. In other words, you would spread your money around so that a downturn in a single company or industry wouldn’t leave you bankrupt. You might even rebalance your portfolio occasionally so your future investments didn’t get too concentrated in a stock or fund.
Diversify Your Network Investment
Just as you wouldn’t put all your financial eggs in one basket, you also need to diversify your professional relationships. Your network, after all, is an investment of your time, your energy, and your reputation. Everything you will accomplish in your career will come from investing these resources effectively, efficiently, and wisely. The returns on this investment include access to jobs and promotions, market insights, industry knowledge, clients, mentors, business partners, and so on. The interest you will compound in your network will make you valuable beyond your wildest dreams.
So why, then, do we concentrate our professional networks based on what’s easiest, closest, or most like us? And if we’re doing the work anyway, why not build our networks with diversity in mind? We need to recognize which perspectives we may be missing, and then we need to seek out people who are different.
In “The Bizarro Jerry” episode of the iconic sitcom Seinfeld, Elaine finds a new friend group that mirrors the show’s main characters.³ When George asks if he can join them, Elaine says, “I’m sorry…we already have a George.” How many of your relationships are simply mirror images of other relationships? People in the same industry, from the same schools, living in the same area, and so on? All of those relationships are valuable, to be sure, but how much additional value could you add by seeking out people who are different?4
Aspects of Diversity
Different aspects of our identities radiate from us like spokes of a bicycle tire. The primary aspects are relatively immutable characteristics. These identifiers are the ones we and others use to determine how we fit into the world, at our very core: gender, race, age, generation, ethnicity, physical ability, primary language, nationality, and sexual orientation.5
Beyond these core identities, there are other factors that influence how we interact with and experience the world around us. Where we live, how much money we make, how we worship, and marital status are some examples. In terms of work, we might consider a person’s industry, level of education, employer, or level of management as important diversity considerations.
All these dimensions combine in exciting ways that make each person’s worldview a unique kaleidoscope of perspective. When we mix these points of view together, we innovate in ways that are rich and colorful and exciting, far beyond that which we could ever conceive on our own. By investing our time and energy into connecting with people and ideas outside of our own norms, we create new opportunities for ourselves and others.
For more information about creating a broad and deep professional network, along with a simple tool for assessing the diversity of your own network, read Network Beyond Bias: Making Diversity a Competitive Advantage for Your Career by Amy C. Waninger.
¹ Gale, Porter. Your Network Is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age. New York: Atria Books, 2013.
² “Network.” Dictionary.com. Accessed May 03, 2018. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/network.
³ Sims, David. “Seinfeld: “The Bizarro Jerry”/”The Little Kicks”.” TV Club. November 10, 2011. Accessed May 03, 2018. https://tv.avclub.com/seinfeld-the-bizarro-jerry-the-little-kicks-1798170418.
4 Deutschendorf, Harvey. “5 Reasons You Should Hang Out With People Who Are Different From You.” Fast Company. August 21, 2014. Accessed May 03, 2018. https://www.fastcompany.com/3034602/5-reasons-to-hang-out-with-people-that-are-different-from-us.
5 Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC), The. CDP Exam Study Guide. 4th ed. 2016. Page 27.