Women can’t network the same way as successful men and this is why

When it comes to career success, women face different barriers than their male counterparts do. A long history of pipeline problems, unequal pay and gendered roles have held some women back, even as more female professionals enter the workforce.

And so it may not come as a surprise that women who want to ascend the ranks in the business world cannot rely on the same networking tropes as men do, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article based on research published by the National Academy of Sciences.

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“Our study suggests that women face a greater challenge in networking to find professional opportunities – they, more than men, need to maintain both wide networks and informative inner circles in order to land the best positions,” Brian Uzzi, one of the study’s co-authors, writes in HBR. 

Uzzi and his fellow researchers studied emails among alumni who graduated from a top U.S. business school in 2006 and 2007 to see how people’s social networks affected the authority and pay they were given in their job placement after graduation.

Among men, the key to success was centrality in their network. Men who were in the top quartile of centrality among their MBA network found jobs with 1.5 times greater pay and authority than those who were least central.

Uzzi has a simple explanation for why centrality makes all the difference.

“Centrality is positively correlated with accessing job market information,” he writes.” Even though much of this is publicly available online, it can be much faster to get the information you need from different MBA students who have contacts across various groups of students who are familiar with employers you’re interested in.”

What changes for women?

If women follow their male colleagues’ lead, chances are they’ll fall short of expectations.

“Women who had networks that most resembled those of successful men… placed into leadership positions that were among the lowest in authority and pay,” Uzzi says.

Instead, he and his co-authors found that women required one additional ingredient for success — and those who had it could expect jobs with much higher authority and pay than their peers who didn’t.

Women do need centrality in their network, like men, Uzzi explains. But they also require “an inner circle of close female contacts” if they want access to the upper echelons of executive leadership. Preferably, this inner circle will be part of different networks, so that women can expand their reach and information pool through their closest colleagues.

“Because women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies,” Uzzi writes.

He continues, “While men had inner circles in their networks too – contacts that they communicated with most – we found that the gender composition of males’ inner circles was not related to job placement.”

Uzzi makes several suggestions for women who want to succeed: Aim for quality over quantity while networking, embrace randomness and beware of closed inner circles, he writes.

So perhaps it’s time to start reaching out to female colleagues — if you’re a woman, they may be your roadmap to the C-suite.

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