Women network differently than men, study says – and that’s not a good thing

The old boy’s club is way more powerful than the Lean In group you organized in your town, especially when it comes to hard results like career advances like pay raises and promotions. Women’s networks are typically less effective than men’s in terms of what they get out of them, studies have shown.

A new study published in the journal Human Relations sought to find out exactly was.  The study interviewed 37 high-profile women in major German corporations. They found that not only do women build their networks differently than men, but they use them differently as well.

Women’s networks are more social, with closer relationships, while men’s are larger and more transactional, with looser ties. But it’s how they use them – or more importantly, fail to – that was the main discovery.

Lean in, but also lean on

In what the study called “personal hesitation,” the women studied were less likely to actually leverage their networks. They felt hesitant in asking for support and felt moral concerns about using their network, especially if they felt that they couldn’t return the favor equally. They also often under-valued their professional worth in the network.

“[I approach people] without the expectation that I want something from that person, but with the intention to get to know that person,” said one interviewee.

Women also tend to build networks with other women who are either at their same level of hierarchy or below it; this limits their access to top-level people in their organization who could pass on knowledge or provide mentorship opportunities.

Difficulty gaining entrance

Many networks – often male-dominated – are informal, meaning women have less of a chance of gaining entrance in the first place. (Unless they want to take up golf). There is also the fact that people want to socialize with people who are like them, hence the popularity of the old boys club.

Women also have unique circumstances outside work; they have less time to socialize their way into networking opportunities, since networking events typically take place evenings or weekends, usually because they have the added responsibility of caring for children that men do not have, according to the study.

In fact, the “mere anticipation” of work-family conflict caused some women to opt out of networking events.

“I don’t have such networks. If you are that busy with your job and have two children and a husband to boot, you have your hands full,” said one interviewee.

It’s possible that women simply don’t see networks the same way men do – perhaps they experience them more like support groups,  instead of a way to leapfrog ahead in their careers.

Regardless – partially due to gender bias beyond their control, but partially due to their own hesitation and undervaluing – they are missing out on the real concrete gains made in male professional networks.