We all know that networking is beneficial for our careers — it helps professionals share ideas with their peers so they can improve their on-the-job performance and to make connections that may lead to future employment opportunities. But in Mastering the Game: Strategies for Career Success, author Sharon E. Jones identifies an aspect of networking that isn’t so widely celebrated — its ability to ease loneliness and isolation, particularly for those who feel underrepresented in their industry due to their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or physical abilities.
For instance, “as a diverse person in a white male-dominated space, you may not always feel comfortable and included,” writes Jones, a lawyer and diversity consultant. “It’s important to be open to forming social support relationships across lines of difference, but when you are in the minority, it’s also very important to build supportive relationships with those with whom you share various identity characteristics.”
Maintaining these connections to stave off loneliness is both emotionally and professionally beneficial, Jones writes, as such social interactions are tied to heightened productivity and enthusiasm at work. According to Jones, research shows that 50 percent of people across industries report being burned out — and that people are now more than twice as likely to state that they are exhausted all the time than they were 20 years ago.
A Harvard Business Review article highlighted the correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion: “The more people are exhausted, the lonelier they feel,” the authors of the HBR article write. Jones writes, “Maintaining strong social connections has even greater importance in light of the finding that loneliness reduces longevity by 70 percent.” That’s more than the years shaved off a lifetime by other factors, including obesity (20 percent), drinking (30 percent), and smoking (50 percent), according to the HBR article. “So,” Jones advised, “build social connections to stay in this game over the long term.”
For internal networking, the author suggests joining your organization’s employee resource group (ERG), if possible. “An ERG is a group of employees who share a common aspect of identity and want to associate with others similar to themselves,” Jones writes. “You never know who will participate in these employer-sponsored groups.… The group could also be a great source for informal mentors and/or sponsors, depending on who participates.”
To network externally, Jones suggests looking into professional organizations that similarly share an aspect of your identity. “Some of my best professional relationships were formed in the Black Women Lawyers Association of Chicago (BWLA),” she writes in the book. “Regardless of whether your network operates inside or outside your company, it’s important to be able to connect to those networks, and to realize you are not alone in your experience.”