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Connections and Communities: How to Make Networking Pay Off

What does effective networking look like in this era of endless notifications and digital connections? Nicholas Edrington is the Marketing Director of the Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Business and Enterprise (GLOBE) which strives to create incredible networking opportunities and support for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community. He shares the benefits of niche networking communities, tangible tips to make genuine connections and how to ensure those new connections take away much more than just your business card!

 

What has been GLOBE’s impact on the LGBTI community and the wider business community at large?

GLOBE impacts Melbourne in three significant ways – we connect our community, we support our community and we celebrate our community.

We exist to connect our community and to provide a safe place so that LGBTI business owners and professionals to meet and create networks.  Our Blended Fruits networking event is the largest LGBTI networking event in the state which has been around for over 20 years. It’s so successful because everyone can enjoy a diversity of profession, industry and experience. It’s also a social event, and allows you to connect with members of Melbourne’s LGBTI community in a context that’s more relaxed than a nightclub.

We also support our community through community grants. This year we’re investing $25,000 (which comes from membership fees, our monthly events and most notably, our Community Awards gala) in Melbourne’s LGBTI community by providing grants of up to $2,000 towards community organisations, scholarships and small businesses.

 

What can help set you apart in networking? How do you stand out from the crowd, especially when networking face to face when we live in a digital world full of online connections?

There is no comparison between connecting online and the connections you make face-to-face. People will always remember someone they had a conversation with at an event before a notification on their mobile.

How to set yourself apart in networking? Listen. I would say the best thing we can all do is ask questions and listen. A good conversationalist has the capacity to engage in a two-way dialogue. It sounds simple, but it’s something many people fail to do. I don’t believe in tricks or stunts to seek attention, we all have our own unique personalities and this will come through in a good conversation. That’s what people remember.

 

What are the top three advantages of niche networking communities?

  1. The most powerful thing about networking with people of a shared community, interest, identity or profession is shared experience. You immediately connect because you have encountered the same difficulties, have the same aspirations and are excited about the same things.
  2. You can connect with people from across generations. I’m very fortunate to have connected with a mentor through GLOBE, and have many friends who are anywhere between 2 and 20+ years older than me. This is particularly important to LGBTI people, as I myself never had any role models growing up.
  3. You can connect with the wider LGBTI community. Most GLOBE members are also members of other community groups, organisations and not-for-profits. There is incredible value in these connections. For those who have been nervous to come out at work, GLOBE is a network of professionals who are/have been in the same situation who can provide support and encouragement. There’s something hugely cathartic about being able to connect with others facing the same difficulties and struggles, and GLOBE certainly provides this.

 

When it comes to creating a safe space for communities to come together and network, how do you foster that environment and can you take that thinking/process/culture back into the workplace?

The safest and most welcoming offering of GLOBE is the assumption that everyone in the room is LGBTI. Heteronormative workplaces are an environment in which some people may feel uncomfortable portraying their true selves. The 2016 Australian Workplace Equality Index found that 45% of LGBTI workers hid their sexuality.

Aside from the possible issue of bullying, the least people in a workplace can do is be mindful of inclusive language and to recognise their LGBTI peers without making them feel singled out. Asking people how their partners are, ensuring same-sex partners are invited to events by name, avoiding uncomfortable and belittling terms like ‘special friend’ and respecting people’s preferred gender pronouns.

 

What does it take to create a successful, thriving community where members come back regularly to your networking events?

Genuine connections.

People show interest in a community group or networking organisation because they are seeking to connect with other people. We often have members that are new to Melbourne, who have recently decided to be open about their sexuality, or seeking professional mentorship and that means they want to leave an event having met people. What makes them come back is the prospect of seeing those people again, and meeting even more.

Over the years through communities and connections, I’ve found professional peers, friends (of all ages and backgrounds) and even a mentor. There are few organisations that can offer this and it’s something I’m passionate about.

 

You’ve done the hard work, made a great impression on a connection and want them to take away more than just your business card. What would that be?

A promise.

Good networking is a mutually beneficial exchange. You can offer each other something and in parting you should promise some kind of exchange or offer. This could be anything from a referral, to a product, a quote for a service, an opinion or assessment of something, or simply a social catch-up. Be creative, but don’t forget your business card or a LinkedIn connection before you part ways for the follow-up!

Networking pays off when you have something to offer people with no need to ask for anything in return.

 

How has networking benefited you?

I haven’t applied for a job in 7 years, yet I’ve held several roles. I’m really grateful to be able to say that I’ve been approached or referred to all the professional roles I’ve had in my career. I even had a full-time job as a marketing consultant for the last 18 months of my degree, and that was thanks to networking. As a result of this, I believe I’ve always had a good relationship with my employers and am thankful to have been apart of workplaces that chose me. It’s an empowering feeling and inspires huge loyalty and a willingness to give them your all.

 

I cannot stress enough to professionals of any age the importance of being involved in networking and community organisations.

 

Connect with Nicholas Edrington on LinkedIn here.

 

Photography by Sarah Williamson.