Mastering networking

It can be steep at the top for women in F&B. Here, tips to level the field.

“I grew up with the idea there was something distasteful about networking,” says Rohini Dey, chef-owner of Vermilion in Chicago and New York City. She felt if she kept her head down and worked hard, her accomplishments would be recognized. “In hindsight, I really wish I’d known better,” she says. Needing to rally investors to expand her concept, Dey launched a self-styled “networking renaissance” and now helps other women connect. It’s notable work. Time magazine’s all-male “Gods of Food” article stoked the fire under the gender gap in foodservice; much of the fallout pointed to women not being supported or  “putting themselves out there.” A Women’s Foodservice Forum study earmarked “building networks” among the top three competencies of successful women in the industry. See how to tailor that effort to your style.

chef woman

Do you belong to any industry groups?

Tip: Look beyond the industry, too. Broader networks are equally helpful. Dey has met investors, engineered collaborations and made connections in local business and alumni organizations, as well as professional groups.

No, but I should join.
Tip: Match the group to your goal. Be it capital, mentors, industry contacts or breadth across sectors, let your goal inform your picks, says Dey. “This evolves through time, as should your choice of networking avenues.” 

If not, why not?

Who has the time?
Tip: Approach one person you admire. Ask for a mentorship session. “Be clear in where you are and where you hope to get, and ask for help and counsel,” says Dey. As CEO of TGI Fridays U.K., Karen Forrester (see Page 17) reached out to founder Dan Scoggin. Spending time with him gave her insight into the principles that would guide the brand for the next 50 years. “He has become a great friend and fan of Team U.K.,” Forrester says. 

They’re a waste of time.
Tip: Treat networking as a transaction. “Get active and get visible,” Dey says. Just remember the payoff may come later. Need help? Offer it to someone else. Have space? Host a lunch seminar. Find a resolution to a business issue? Write it up for an organization to publish. These efforts build relationships and set you up as a trusted expert, returning results over time.

What challenges do you face when networking?

I don’t know anyone.
Tip: Use technology to make an introduction. Tech can help make new connections less awkward. Reach out via Linkedin or Twitter, and ask if the person is available for a phone call or coffee or if they can point you to a helpful book or article—anything that starts a conversation makes a connection.

I’m not very active on social media.
Tip 1: Go digital with your contacts. Even with social networking, business cards remain a staple of in-person interaction. To bring them online, use an app such as Evernote in addition to LinkedIn. Take a photo with the app of every card you receive, and it will read the data off the image and connect with that contact on LinkedIn.

Tip 2: Think LinkedIn. Women rule Facebook, but make up only 35 percent of users on LinkedIn, the networking site with a higher conversion rate. Keep your profile up-to-date, share content often and link to one new person a week. A good role model is Focus Brands President Kat Cole, a top influencer on the site.

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