By Diana Aguiar De Sousa @Diana_A_Sousa and Ellis van Etten @Ellis_van_Etten

Do women need to play golf to be successful networkers? In this WISE workshop about networking, the speakers combined scientific evidence with their own experiences to explain how women network differently than men.

From Networks in the Brain to Networks of Brains

Francesca Romana Pezzella started with her presentation on networks entitled From Networks in the Brain to Networks of Brains. She elaborated on the different levels of structure in the nervous system that form the ‘human hardware’. She explained the social brain hypothesis that proposed that selection pressure from social interaction led to refinement of human behavior and that our social capacities have likely enabled and catalyzed human cultural evolution. She concluded that it is possible to explore brain mechanisms underlying social interaction in a neurocognitive context and underlined that the social neuro-science is an exciting and rapidly expanding discipline.

Do Women Build Less Effective Networks than Men?

The next speaker Thanh Nguyen explained the gender differences in networks between women and men. In general, women tend to be more social and have smaller networks but with stronger ties. Also, women often have more personal hesitation when it comes to networking. She stressed that you shouldn’t aim to join networks for reaping benefits immediately. Dr Nguyen also encouraged the listeners to update their online portfolio and to always have their “elevator pitch“ ready. Adequate networking from both women and men should help to avoid the creation of so called ”manels” (panels consisting of only men) on conferences.

In his presentation on this same topic, Marios Psychogios showed the results of a survey he conducted in his own stroke care community. He found some interesting results on differences in network behavior between women and men (e.g. are men just louder?). He concluded that these differences were probably based on unconscious bias: expecting other behavior from men and women. He also pointed out that many more factors (e.g. migration status and introvert/extrovert personality traits) are probably strong influencers of our network qualities stressing the need for equity/fairness instead of equality.

Do Women Need to Network Differently than Men to Get Ahead?

Next up, Valeria Caso asked the question Do Women Need to Network Differently than Men to Get Ahead? Like the previous speakers, she explained her views on the differences in networking skills between men and women; women are often a little more sentimental in maintaining working relationship, wanting to create an alliance, whereas men seem more pragmatic. She explained that the starting point differs between the two genders due to a different body language. Again,  unconscious bias results in the conception that men are more suitable for some positions. So, while some might think that women need to network like men to achieve similar goals, new research shows that it is not even enough!

Women’s Brain Project

Moving on, Annemarie Schumacher Dimech introduced us to the Women’s Brain Project. As President of the Women’s Brain Project (WBP), Annemarie Dimech highlighted how networking was important for the development and expansion of this initiative. The idea of WBP was conceived by four people with very different backgrounds (Annemarie, Antonella Santuccione Chadha, Gautam Maitra, and Maria Teresa Ferretti). The goal was to address sex and gender bias in research, treatment and prevention of brain and mental diseases, promoting a precision medicine approach to provide better, more tailored and cost-effective care to patients. In only 5 years, WBP is now a registered non-profit organization with an international team that includes dozens of collaborators specialized in various disciplines, such as medicine, neuroscience, psychology, and pharmacy, but also academics, clinicians, and other professionals interested in promoting gender-based science for the benefit of humanity.

Networking as a Tool for Leadership

Lastly, the presentation entitled Networking as a Tool for Leadership by Gian Marco de Marchis. Gian Marco started his talk with the concept of peer-to-peer mentoring and the importance of reaching out to like-minded peers on conferences and have a healthy dose of mutual trust. He summed up important lessons from different mentors that he encountered through the years. He stressed the importance of soft and crucial skills including self-organization, leadership, and communication. Also he mentioned that you can learn from people you don’t like, to know what type of behavior to avoid. He concluded with the message to focus on the science, and have fun while doing it!

At the end of the workshop, the panel discussed some questions from the audience, including how to prepare and encourage female researchers to take on leadership roles.

The recorded workshop is avaliable for viewing on the WISE webpage.