Networks: women get together to get ahead

Within the past five years, women across the US have been forming networks -- groups of women seeking to exchange information and advice about jobs. The aim is to help women workers advance their careers and gain more pay, self-esteem, and know-how. More than 500 networks are known to exist, but new ones spring into existence each week, and old networks continue to spin off new special-interest groups. Some include women from the same professional level, while others include women at various levels.

Mary Scott Welch, who has writen a new book called "Networking, the Great New Way for Women to Get Ahead" estimates that by the end of 1980, some 10 million women (almost one-fourth of the 43 million women now in the workforce) could be involved in some form of supportive networking to help them get ahead in their careers, or work out their problems on their jobs.

When Mrs. Welch first began her research for her book, she found in-house networks in such corporations as Exxon, General Electric, NBC, Newsweek, ABC-TV, and Reader's Digest. She saw in these groups the beginning of a feminine counterpart to the informal "old boy" networks among men through which they commend, promote, and inform each other.

In her travels across the country the author found hundreds of other networks , operating officially or informally, in dozens of cities and towns. Many groups did not even know that others existed. Yet, all sorts of women, including executives, teachers, secretaries, waitresses, and factory workers, are getting together to help each other get fair pay, advancement, and the respect of their employers. They trade information and offer support, and Mrs. Welsh found that they defy old stereotypes about women by working with trust and without a sense of competition.

Many networks also offer programs that explain the inner working of corporate structures and show how individual jobs fit into the overall picture. Some programs show women how to cope with office politics, develop job skills, juggle marriages, homes, and careers, and also handle frustration and anger on the job. Some groups have invited lawyers to speak to them about sex discrimination on the job. Other networks help their members develop political consciousness.

"The biggest lesson that women have to learn in their networking groups is that they must put back as much as they take out," says Mrs. Welsh. "They cannot be only on the asking and taking end. They must find those they can help , as well, and they must be willing to act as a resource to someone else." She has also found that many women need to give thought to being specific in the questions they put to others. She cites the question which women often ask her, "How do I write a book?" which defies an intelligent, short answer.

She points out that because networking entails action, many women fail to take advantage of them, in part because of passivity reluctance to discuss their career goals, and fear of what management might think or say. But she found that hundreds are making their ways into networks.

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