How to Build an Inclusive Network: Embracing Diversity in Professional and Personal Circles

By Juliette C. Mayers, Author of Strategic Networking 2.0: Harness the Power of Connection and Inclusion for Business Success

In our ongoing exploration of building and nurturing professional networks, it’s crucial to extend our understanding beyond the mere transactional aspects of networking towards creating meaningful, inclusive, and productive relationships. The essence of this approach isn’t just about expanding your professional circle but cultivating a community that thrives on mutual support and diverse perspectives.

With globalization, building an inclusive network is not just a moral imperative but a strategic advantage. In my recent book Strategic Networking 2.0, I discuss how a diverse network can foster new perspectives, drive innovation, improve decision making and enhance personal growth. For organizations, this can translate into talent attraction, retention, employee engagement, increased business effectiveness, access to new markets and most importantly healthier workplace cultures where people feel a sense of belonging.

The following are dynamic ways to help you cultivate a diverse and inclusive network:

Start with Self-Reflection

The first step in building an inclusive network is self-awareness. Reflect on your existing network – is it diverse? Often, our networks mirror our own backgrounds and experiences. Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and connect with people who differ from you in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, abilities, thought, and professional background.

Educate Yourself

You’ll be able to build your professional competencies by learning about different cultures, industries, and communities. Attend workshops, read books, and listen to podcasts that cover topics that are growth opportunities for you. Understanding various barriers that underrepresented groups face, can help you become a more empathetic and effective networker and professional.

Engage Meaningfully

Attend diverse networking events by actively seeking out and participating in-person and on-line. Conferences, webinars, and social gatherings organized around diverse themes are a great places to start.

Leverage social media platforms such as LinkedIn, and Facebook. These offer vast opportunities to connect with a diverse audience globally. Join groups, participate in discussions, and follow influencers who advocate for diversity and inclusion. Engaging in these platforms not only broadens your network but also deepens your understanding of diverse perspectives.

Be Genuine and Be Respectful in Your Interactions

When expanding your network, authenticity is key. Building relationships based on trust and mutual respect involves listening actively and engaging sincerely. Respect is important in all relationships, yet people have their own interpretations and expectations. As the late Aretha Franklin stated “R.E.S.P.E.C.T find out what it means to me.” Take the time to understand common behaviors that are considered disrespectful and avoid them. For example, being late in some cultures is the norm and time is more fluid. In other cultures, being late is considered very disrespectful.

Show genuine interest in the stories, challenges, and successes of others. Remember, strategic networking is not just about exchanging business cards; it’s about building meaningful connections and relationships.

Add Value Through Mentorship

Mentorship is a powerful tool for expanding your network inclusively. Seek mentors from different backgrounds and offer to mentor others, especially those from underrepresented groups. This exchange can foster a culture of learning and sharing, which is fundamental to an inclusive network.

If you hold a leadership position or have the capacity to do so, create networking events or forums that encourage inclusivity. Focus on creating safe spaces where every participant feels valued and heard. Ensure that these events have clear codes of conduct that promote respect and inclusivity.

As your network grows, use your influence to advocate for others. Highlight the achievements of diverse individuals in your network. Recommend them for opportunities that can help their careers and invite them to networking events. Allyship and advocacy are powerful ways to support others and strengthen your network.

Regularly Evaluate Your Network

Periodically assess the diversity of your network. Is it growing more inclusive? What gaps still exist? Address them and expand your reach. Regular evaluation helps you stay committed to your goal and make necessary adjustments to your networking strategies.

Building an inclusive network is a continual process that enriches both your professional and personal life. It enhances your worldview, opens up new opportunities, and most importantly, it builds a community based on diversity, equity, and mutual respect. Start today, one connection at a time, and watch as your world expands in ways you never imagined.

Call to Action!

1. Engage in Active Learning

Dedicate time each month to educate yourself about diverse cultures, industries, and experiences through books, podcasts, and workshops. This broadened perspective will enhance your ability to connect authentically with a wider variety of people.

2. Participate in Diverse Events

Regularly attend and participate in networking events that emphasize diversity and inclusion. Use platforms like Meetup or Eventbrite to discover and engage with events that align with your goals of cultivating a diverse network.

3. Advocate and Mentor

Actively seek out opportunities to mentor individuals from underrepresented groups and advocate for their professional advancement. Use your position to recommend diverse talents within your network for new opportunities and actively include them in networking events to help them grow their connections

Juliette Mayers is the author of Strategic Networking 2.0, host of Entering the Inspiration Zone podcast, contributor to Forbes, and member of Forbes Coaches Council. She is the founder and CEO of Inspiration Zone LLC, a firm specializing in DEI strategy, brand management, and thought leadership.