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Savvy social networking can break down industries' gender barriers

MELVILLE, N.Y. — As a woman in a male-oriented business, Lindsay M. Heller says she knows what it's like to be mistaken for a cashier "simply because of my sex."

Still, Heller, general manager at J Barbera Tobacconist in Garden City, N.Y., points to a resource she says has helped her break the gender barrier — social media.

Sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have helped her establish her personal brand and "assert myself globally in the tobacco industry," where she serves on executive advisory boards and speaks at events.

Indeed, a new report from LinkedIn, with more than 100 million members, says women in some nontraditional fields are particularly well-connected, more so than their male counterparts, with the same true for men in some female-dominated industries. This is based on a networking "savviness" formula that considers the ratio of the number of men's to women's connections on LinkedIn, and the ratio of men to women in given fields. So in an industry where 45 percent of profiles are women's, but women have 70 percent of the connections, women would be considered savvier networkers.

The top industries where women were deemed the savvier networkers, according to LinkedIn, were tobacco, ranching, international trade and development, alternative medicine and alternative dispute resolution. Men trumped women in online networking savviness in law enforcement, medical practices, capital markets, hospital/health care and cosmetics. Across all industries worldwide, men took the connectivity prize, according to the LinkedIn report.

In industries dominated by one sex, the "minority sex" may be networking harder to break in, say LinkedIn data crunchers.

Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of The Twitter Job Search Guide, says social media "can be a huge barrier buster." Engaging and sharing know-how can demonstrate professional chops and "really bring down the walls," she said.

Heller, who got her start at Nat Sherman tobacconists in Manhattan, says her activity on Twitter has "allowed me to dispel a lot of myths." Known there as TheCigarChick, she has more than 2,500 followers. On Linked- In she has 164 connections and belongs to groups such as the Cigar Group and the Social Cigar Professionals Network.

As for LinkedIn's finding that men are better connected in the cosmetics industry, Eric Neher thinks men may have to work a little harder in a field where he sees so many female executives. He's brand marketing and merchandising manager of Manhattan-based Birchbox, a startup e-commerce site for beauty samples and products.

Just as in the tobacco business, "gender assumptions are made," said Neher, 29, who says he has received several e-mails with a "Dear Erica" greeting.

There's also the bonding advantage women have, he says, in the ability to "connect on a basic level, as they're all users of the products" and can compare notes on, say, eyeliner and shadow.

"I don't wear makeup or nail polish," he said. "I need to find ways to connect with executives on some other level."

Savvy social networking can break down industries' gender barriers 08/02/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 12:38am]

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