Article: A guide to using networking to support career transitions

Leadership Development

A guide to using networking to support career transitions

Proactively building a strong professional network empowers women to overcome challenges, develop skills, and achieve greater career success.
A guide to using networking to support career transitions

According to statistics provided by various reports of the Government of India, in 2020-21, the female Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in tertiary education has increased to around 49%. There are 17 Universities and 4,375 Colleges exclusively for women, and women are making full use of them.

Indian industry is also open to hiring women. India's white-collar sector has seen a 35 per cent spike in job openings for women between 2022 and 2023.

So… the aspirations are there, as are the opportunities.

But of all these women graduates, barely 30% of them join the workforce and of that number, barely 10% make it to leadership roles. There are many reasons for the leaky pipeline to leadership – family responsibilities, a reluctance to put themselves for roles, societal conditioning and self-limiting beliefs.

Transitioning to leadership roles requires women to overcome all of these barriers, often on their own. Organisations assume that people will scale their skills and level up their leadership behaviours to shine in their new roles. But this is a hit-or-miss strategy and it is expensive. For the organisation, the cost is in terms of the time it takes for the new leader to become effective. The individual takes a hit not only in salaries, bonuses and promotions but more importantly in self-esteem. 

Transitions – the pathway to growth

Transitions are generally considered promotions – either to a lateral role with different and larger responsibilities or an elevation to a leadership role. Companies offer these roles to individuals because they (mostly) have the right skills and experience, have demonstrated that they understand and agree with the expected outcome, and have the right soft skills.

But, no one ever has every single skill that is needed. Every new job requires us to stretch a wee bit and acquire or extend our skills. To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith - What Got You Here Isn’t Enough to Get You There. 

So what is that ‘wee bit’ extra to transition to a larger role? In this article, the magic word I explore is Networks.

The power of networks

Networks, especially professional networks, facilitate relationships that help us learn, develop wider and alternate perspectives and build a personal brand to become successful.

Women, however, perceive networking as time taken away from work and family to engage in an activity that they see as inauthentic. Also, culturally, women have been raised to believe in modesty as a virtue and we go overboard – turning down compliments, downplaying our achievements and attributing our success to others.

But to transition upward successfully - many times throughout a career, we need to break the mental barriers and view building networks to be as necessary as learning a new skill.

Also read: Power of Networking

Networks as a transition tool

A larger role can be exciting, but also scary – “Am I good enough?” is a question every single human being wrestles with. 

We may be inclined to pull into ourselves, take a course to learn a skill, draw flowcharts to change processes, and question our leadership style – “Will I look weak if I ask questions? Will people see me as unfit for the role, if I admit to not knowing something? should I focus on details and review everything my team does? or should I have an ‘authoritative big picture’ view and issue diktats for execution? Should I use command-and-control or build consensus?”

Our minds go around in circles and we end up taking the most self-protective stance to becoming the new boss. 

But research shows that the most successful ‘new bosses’ reach out within their teams and beyond, to build connections that form a broad network. They recognise their strengths and acknowledge (initially to themselves) the ‘wee bit’ they need to develop and pull in people who have complementary skills and can bridge the gap. Through this network, they begin to see a larger picture and opportunities than they could have ever done on their own and often, expand the role to demonstrate leadership beyond expectations.

But, the honeymoon period for new leaders is far shorter today than it ever was. We don’t have the luxury of allowing networks to grow organically (and slowly) and waiting for them to bear fruit. Here are some tips for building a network with intentionality.

Start today – create a list of people who can add value to you. Then look at what value you can add to them. Do your homework and create a short pitch. Set up a conversation – ask for a slot on their calendar, invite them for coffee or suggest eating lunch together. Meet at least two new people every week (or month) – within the organisation or someone you met at an industry body (CII, NASSCOM, SHRM, a conference, etc – of course, you must attend these first!) event. Remember – mutually beneficial – is critical. 

If you don’t know how you can add value to them, ask. 

Think wide not necessarily deep.

This means “putting yourself out there”. Yes, some people may not be as receptive. That’s why we’re aiming for ‘Wide’. 

Ask for guidance – most people, believe in ‘giving back’ or ‘paying it forward’. When you ask for guidance or advice, you’re showing respect for their achievements and the value they can add, not just to you, but to the company and the initiative that you’re leading. In the process, you gain mentors and sponsors for you and the idea that you champion.

Drive collaboration & innovation – Both ideation and execution improve when the team is diverse.  Use the social capital you have accumulated to bring in wider perspectives, develop alternate solutions and socialise ideas to make change management smoother. Methods, techniques and practices from different functions can aid in each of these areas. So, the wider the network, the greater the chances of success.

Create an advisory board – of well-wishers from diverse functions, who will listen to you and share their experience (you’ll of course reciprocate). A “crowd-sourced solution” emerges, that has a greater chance of acceptance because so many people have contributed their diverse points of view. This network typically begins as a wide, shallow pond and grows into a deep lake of support over the years, with steady nurturing.

Identify role models – to learn the secrets of a well-integrated life. Each of us has noticed a smiling, successful colleague who appears to have a vibrant life outside of work. Maybe she’s into sports, or music, or family, or volunteering. 

Observe her to find something that works for you and emulate her. We have always learnt from others, from the time we learnt to mirror the smile on our mother’s face. You’ll build a more well-rounded and joyful life. And, you’ll find opportunities to build a wonderful network outside of work too!


Professional and Personal networks are critical to transition into more meaningful roles. To paraphrase the poet Jon Donne, none of us is an island – we grow and thrive on connections and networks!

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Topics: Leadership Development, Diversity, Learning & Development

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