Difest Speaker Series

Headshot of Kingsley Aikins

Diversity in Networking – Kingsley Aikins

Founder and CEO, The Networking Institute (Ireland)

Why is diversity in Networking so important for business?

All the research shows that if you, as an individual or you, as a company, do not reflect the diversity of the economy you operate in and the society you live in, then you underperform. Research also shows that people who have strong and diverse networks live longer, are stronger mentally and physically, earn more money and are happier. Also, networking is the antidote to one of the great crises of our times which is loneliness.

Can you briefly describe how you are making a significant impact in the space of diversity and inclusion?

The mission of The Networking Institute is enable people put networking front and centre of their personal and professional lives. In an interconnected and interdependent world the key to being able to survive and thrive is to build a strong and diverse network. In this world you have to network your way to success. Opportunities don’t float around on clouds – they are attached to people so if you are looking for an opportunity you are really looking for a person. Life is a game of inches and the difference between success and failure, between coming first and second, can be tiny but the implications are enormous. Your network can be the difference maker. One introduction, one conversation can change your life but they don’t happen lying in bed or sitting at your desk – they happen when you are in motion, when you are out and about, when you talk to strangers and seek out unlikeminded people. One of the challenges of the world we now live in is homophilly – the tendency we all have to seek out and spend time when people just like us. Homophilly is a Greek work meaning ‘love of self’ and when applied to groups could be summed up as ‘birds of a feather flock together’. There is a great danger in this as we end up spending time in ‘echo chambers’ associating with people whose views and opinions we know. The reality is that there is strong chance we are going to get our next job through our network. However, that is why weak connections can often be more helpful than strong connections because they ‘bridge’ us into new and diverse networks of people. COVID19 is giong to bring great turbulence and disruption to the jobs market as well as opportunity. McKinsey recently published a report “The future of work after COVID19” in which they estimate that more than 100 million workers in 8 major economies may need to switch occupations by 2030. Your network is critical as is the diversity in your network. Companies now want to ‘hire and wire’ i.e. hire well connected people and wire into their connections. They see this as a critical part of ‘network intelligence’ and a realisation and acceptance that there are more smart people outside their company than inside their company. The challenge then is for people to counter ‘stranger danger’ and seek out people who don’t look and sound like them. In these challenging times we need to ask ourselves two key questions – firstly, is my network strong enough and diverse enough for where I want to be in 3 years time and secondly, what do I need to do now to prepare myself for a dramatically changed world post-COVID. That’s why you need to have a networking plan and be strategic, thoughtful and intentional in creating it. The organic networks of your youth will not see you through as you progress in your career and you begin to realise that the technical skills that you needed to get your job in the first instance become less important (because everyone has them and you can’t compete on what everyone has) and diverse relationships become more important. In short, then, you begin to realise that diversity in your network is not a luxury but a necessity.