Every time I present my Art of the Schmooze session about how to increase your networking success, I know there are women in the audience who think my strategy for keeping track of business cards is an impossible feat. I have (1) a pocket for the cards I’m handing out, (2) a pocket for the cards that I definitely want to keep track of, and (3) a pocket for the cards that are just handed to me without any conversation. Yes, three pockets.

Despite the growing popularity of ginormous sized smartphones (Samsung Galaxy s6, iPhone 6 Plus) women’s professional clothing still only has “for show only” pockets that would barely hold a pack of gum, if they have pockets at all.

Seriously, women won the right to vote in 1920. When will they win the right to pockets? [click to tweet]

Day to day this is an issue. When it’s time for a meeting, men just head down to the conference room, secure that they have everything with them. Women need to do a last minute check to be sure they’ve grabbed everything – phone, keys, pen – and put them where? Their choice tends to be (1) to hold everything in their hands, until they can put them down on the conference room table or (2) stuff them into a bag, which they then have to keep an eye on and remember not leave behind under the chair.

Curious about this phenomenon, I did a little research and found this great articleWhy women's pockets are useless: A history by Marketplace Tech’s Ariana Tobin. Women in the 17th and 18th century had pocket-like bags that were concealed under their skirts and accessible through a slit. We know this thanks to research by fashion historian Barbara Burman who wrote about this in “Pockets  of History: The Secret Life of an Everyday Object.”

So, long before women had the right to vote, they DID have pockets. How did that change? [click to tweet] It’s a long story, but I’ll sum it up by saying that the reason is sexism.

Back to 2015 – where form is still more important than function – anyone who chooses to wear clothing designed for women needs to plan ahead when attending conferences or networking events. Aside from the ubiquitous question of where to put cell phones, keys, and wallet, they also need to consider how to keep their business cards handy. Yes, even if the age of digital everything, business cards are still a useful networking tool. They are a physical reminder for someone to follow-up with you after the event or at the very least to check out your social media channels.

I’ve met women who sew pockets into the inside of their jackets or sew in their own, larger, pockets into their dress pants – this is brilliant. Short of sewing in pockets, planning ahead is definitely key. Walk in with a big old bag without making sure your business cards are safely tucked in a small side pocket and the result is an awkward few minutes with a virtual stranger (that you’re trying to impress). Without any pre-planning several minutes could pass while you root around looking for a business card that isn’t horribly creased or smudged by all that is floating at the bottom of your bag. “Here, hold this…” a woman once said to me while digging deep into the cavernous vessel she had strapped to her shoulder. Think for a moment about what is hiding in your bag, keeping  you from quickly uncovering your business cards, and whether you want to share those contents with whomever you are networking with.

Of course, all of this presumes the bag is with you as you meander around the room and not tucked with your coat across the room. What are the chances your new friend will be waiting for you to return after you’ve dashed across a crowded room to retrieve a business card from your bag? This is a common occurrence that is not limited to women, everyone should realize that there is a difference between having a business card, remembering to bring it to the event, and having it easily accessible while you’re chatting.

Instead of a bag, wear a jacket or sweater that has a small business-card sized pocket (it’s usually freezing in over air conditioned events anyway, since the temperature is set to keep men in suits comfortable, but I digress…) or bring a smaller bag that has only the essentials. Business card holders help prevent business cards from getting stray ink marks from pens, smudges from make-up, or folds from being crushed. With a little practice you may even be able to pull out a business card with one hand while holding your drink in the other. Now that’s classy.

What tips do you have for women at networking events? Post them in the comments.

Robbie Samuels has been recognized as a networking expert by Inc. and Lifehacker, and profiled in “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It” by Dorie Clark.  Check out “On the Schmooze” his new podcast.

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