CYGNA: Kind and inclusive networking

Reports on our 52nd meeting of the CYGNA network dealing with the why, where and how of networking in CYGNA

Since founding CYGNA in 2014 we have had 30 physical meetings in London-based universities. When COVID-19 hit, we moved meetings online and ran 16 virtual meetings between May 2020 and March 2022. From 2022-2023 onwards we have combined virtual and physical meetings.

The aim of our 52nd meeting, superbly organised Ciara O'Higgins [top row, 4th from left] and Rany Salvoldi [top row, 1st from left], was changing our perspectives about networking and building closer bonds within the CYGNA networks. Ciara and Rany provided us with an absolutely perfect mix of reflection and activities. The 2-hour meeting just flew by.

We had 29 attendees attending (part of) the 2-hour meeting, 28 of which can be seen above. The last participant unfortunately arrived after the pictures were taken. As has become common during the pandemic, we had many international members joining us, including from France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, UAE, and the US. Well over half of the participants were from outside the UK.

We also welcomed several new attendees, most of whom had only recently joined CYGNA: Diana Garcia Quevedo, Flaviana Manta, and Hannah Isabelle Tornow. 

Part 1: Presentation

The meeting kicked off with Ciara's excellent presentation about networking, dispelling many myths and suggesting that in order to start networking successfully we may need to shift our perspective on the matter. When networking feels icky or uncomfortable, we’re probably adopting an approach that isn’t right for us. When we think of professional networking, we often think in terms of who can help me get to where I want to go. But it can also be about belonging to a group of likeminded people or creating meaningful relationships with people who have similar interests – relationships that may or may not turn into future professional collaborations.

Moreover, networking doesn’t need to be an individual, solitary project. Through networks like CYGNA, you can find those like-minded people faster and you can create small groups that go together to other events. Approaching networking as a series of small stepping stones makes the process not only less daunting and more authentic in the short-term but also more meaningful in the long-term. 

You can download Ciara's stunning slides and wise messages here

Part 2: Networking stories

The second element of our meeting involved four CYGNA members talking about four different ways in which networking can take place, either within CYGNA or within other organisations.

Rany Salvoldi: Genuine connections around common interests

I find that it is easier and more efficient to network around a shared interest. This way your focus is on that topic that you have in common instead of being too focused on the networking per se. This allows you to be yourself instead of being too self-conscious or putting on a “networking face”. It is particularly helpful for those who are shy or introverted in these situations. 

This is a setting I try to create in the activities I have been organising as Chair of the AOM IM Division Doctoral Student Committee. For example, a networking event that is centered around games, which instantly become a common point of interest. The “networking” part is carried out through the game and not directly, helping people to connect over the game. This has proven to be very efficient (and fun!) in our last annual meeting.

Another example is a reading group that meets periodically to discuss research-related shared interests. Here again, the networking is facilitated through engaging in a discussion on specific topics of shared interest. These topics are detached from the networking goal per se, so people connect through sharing similar questions, doubts or curiosity.

Together, these activities assure a certain continuity (monthly reading group meetings, annual in-person events) and mixed modes of networking that can create genuine connections with people around a long-term shared topic of interest (international management).

On a more personal note, taking on an active role in the community, such as volunteering in committees, also helps towards networking more easily, more broadly, and more intensively. It facilitates connecting to other people who share your "higher-level" interest (e.g. in the specific committee, division, stream of research) through activities that allow to simply connect to others via more practical tasks. Again, this is particularly helpful for those who are relatively more introverted or shyer, or are new to the community.

Anne-Wil's reflections

Rany's reflections really resonated with me. I am a very introverted and shy person, so I have always dreaded networking, particularly at large conference receptions. I was fine at the small-scale EIBA meetings. At EIBA most of us struggled with networking in a non-native language and few Europeans are natural networkers. Moreover, the pre-conference sight-seeing day always allowed participants to connect in smaller groups.

However, I was terrified at my first Academy of Management (AOM) meeting in 1999 and I spent a lot of time on my own. My opening to networking at big conferences came in 2000 when I talked to Srilata Zaheer. She was part of the AOM IM Division's executive committee and was kind enough to chat to newbies. I mentioned that the conference could be overwhelming for new attendees. She suggested that the division would establish a membership involvement committee and that I would be its first chair.

So in 2001 the IM Membership Involvement Committee (MIC) was established and I became its inaugural chair. I recruited nearly 50 country representatives, covering more than 40 countries, to help in the running of the MIC, and created a website with their bios and contact details. See above for Mila Lazarova's entry. Still love that picture!! These country representatives acted as a liaison between academics in their own country and myself as Chair of the MIC.

IMD - MIC logo

Like Rany, I found networking became much easier with a common goal to work towards. Even receptions were easier as MIC members were wearing a button (see left). Rather than having to introduce myself to people, they would come to me asking me about MIC.

Ciara O'Higgins & Margaret Fletcher: CYGNA as a "safety net" in international conferences

Ciara & Margaret shared their joint experience of how CYGNA was leveraged as a safety net at the EIBA 2021 conference. With a quick email out to the network a few weeks before the conference, CYGNA members who were attending the EIBA conference were added to a WhatsApp group, which was used so we could find each other at the social events. Knowing the group was there as a “home base", we each went out to network with our respective contacts.

Margaret also shared her thoughts on how COVID may have affected our networking habits, perhaps making us more apprehensive about large gatherings and how to navigate them. Moreover, she shared a number of great tips about how to make conferences less lonely such as staying at the conference hotel (for both networking and safety reasons) and taking advantage of activities such as fellow cafes and speed-mentoring. Finally, she underlined the importance of making space for both planned and serendipitous networking opportunities. 

Anne-Wil's reflections

As I haven't been attending any conferences in recent years I have yet to experience this role of CYGNA. However, given my early conference experiences (see above), I can fully understand how beneficial this can be. It also gives CYGNA members who are unable to attend face-to-face meetings an opportunity to connect with each other.

Cordula Barzantny: Organising a CYGNA meeting and intergenerational support

I have been a member of CYGNA since its beginning, being a research collaborator and country researcher in the large-scale projects lead by Anne-Wil for France in the past. Here are my reflections on networking more generally:

  • Keep in mind that academic networks can last for a long time. Hence being kind to all your colleagues is important for ensuring a positive effect on your careers. People you have met, but do not necessarily work with closely all the time can still be future referees for tenure and promotion committees etc.
  • Encourage cross-fertilization among generations of researchers and teachers. Seniors can learn from juniors too. IT-literacy and the use of social network technologies are often more present among and mastered by the younger generation. Seniors can take a leading role in academic and pastoral care, and in introducing junior colleagues to academic customs, traditions and career development networking.
  • Give and take is the essence of our interactions, knowing that you cannot stay in any network only as a taker. The more you give the more you will receive, and volunteering in academic life is an implicit and important part for your career and life choices.

In the meeting that I organised on the GLOMO research project (see below), the CYGNA network offered a friendly (and smaller) audience to test ideas, rightsize presentations and get comments for possible improvements before getting into a major conference, for example.

Junior academics have to make themselves visible to get into future co-authorships, visiting professorships, reviewing and editorial board duties. The CYGNA network can be a good avenue for that. The network's global reach also allows us to combine scholars around a joint interest for international research project calls, special issues of journals (see below) and edited books etc.

Anne-Wil's reflections

Cordula's reflections are spot-on! Our own interactions are a case in point. We have been interacting regularly for at least 25 years. Networks built up with peers in the early years of your academic career can be particularly valuable as you often go through similar career stages. Many academics in my network went on to become PhD director and Research Dean like I did. Your early career network can thus provide you with a ready-made group of trusted advisers.

At the same time it is important to ensure your network includes academics who are senior and junior to you. Seniors can help you with references and career advice. Juniors ensure you stay up-to-date not only with new technologies, but also with changes in the academic world more widely. Too often senior academics are stuck in the past

Luisa Pinto and María Bastida: Paper/project related networking

Luisa shared her experience of working and writing with María. Their collaboration over the past five years started before CYGNA but has blossomed with it, resulting in 7 joint papers (one with Anne-Wil Harzing, see below) and an award!

She also shared how reassuring it was to see even native speakers struggle when writing in their own language for publication in journals and encouraged CYGNA members to push through the barriers of communicating in a language that is not your own.

In preparing for the meeting, María also shared that for her the CYGNA network is a networking result in itself, because Swans bring in other Swans who would otherwise not know about the network. She also underlined that CYGNA is a powerful learning platform, where every experience she had participated in has been enriching.

Anne-Wil's reflections

Finding reliable co-authors is essential in academia. We all have our own horror stories (see: Seven signs it’s time to get out: spotting toxic collaborations in academia). Co-authorships can follow different logics (see On academic life: collaborations and active engagement). The traditional-hierarchical rationality emphasizes the seniority and institutional position of collaborators. The strategic-rational rationality is mainly driven by institutional demands for performance- and output-orientation and strategic thinking and practice.

In the scholarly-professional rationality collaborative practices and relations are driven by scholarly curiosity and the development of common interests and understandings. Finally, collaborations based on the relationship-oriented rationality are underpinned by an aspiration and desire for a ‘culture of friendship’ and ‘ethics of care’. They are characterised by mutual support and help and challenge purely instrumental collaborative rationalities.

CYGNA is a particularly powerful network to engage in collaborations based on the relationship-oriented rationality, in most cases matched with the scholarly-professional rationality. My last six papers have all been with CYGNA members and were a perfect match of these two rationalities. Although I am proud of the resulting papers (see below), my most enduring memories will always be about the wonderful collaboration process:

Part 3: Practicing networking in break-out rooms

In the last part of the session Ciara and Rany had designed an interesting set-up in which we were first randomly paired with one other CYGNA member to get to know each other and talk about how we would like to engage with CYGNA. The pairs were then matched with another pair to meet two more members in the safety of their own "couple".

We were asked to have a discussion about what our networking superpowers were. Most participants were convinced they didn't have any, but others were often able to point out their counterparts superpowers. A good lesson in how our strengths are not always visible to ourselves.


Two of Ciara's slides provide a perfect summary of what networking can be and what aspects of our academic jobs networking can be useful for. 


Networking doesn’t have to be a drag - HBR Women at Work podcast


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