Networking Particularities of Men and Women

In today’s world of the corporate ladder, it is obvious to anyone that networking is the key that ultimately leads to career advancements. For example, through your own networking you could be selected for projects and assignments that will lead in future to a promotion. However, women don’t really reap the benefits of this ‘system’ given the simple fact that they are less likely to get hired or promoted in manager roles (i.e. 79 women promoted to 100 men promoted according to a 2018 study done by McKinsey & Co. and called Women in the Workplace).

When women seek a professional mentor, the study has revealed, that they usually look for someone they want to be friends with rather than someone they can learn from. Other studies have shown women aren’t getting the tough feedback they require in order to move ahead. The best mentors will always push, dare, and confront their mentees, and challenge them to take on assignments that will further their career.

However, men look to form professional partnerships. Men have no issue doing business with anyone, even though they don’t necessarily like that particular someone, as long as that individual can help them achieve their goals. Men understand that a working relationship can be annulled when it’s no longer beneficial. Women have the tendency to be suspicious when utilising their social ties whilst also overemphasising the moral aspects of networking.

We know that social networks are critical to professional advancement. We also know that men are more likely to rise to leadership positions.

Why the difference?

Because women seek positions on an executive level they often face numerous cultural and political obstacles than men normally do, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organisation’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.  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.

The Power of Direct Placement

Winning a placement within executive leadership positions straight out of masters degrees benefit both men and women alike. Early-career women, especially, can use this route to sidestep longstanding labour-market challenges, including stereotyping and discrimination, which result in lower pay, lesser advancement opportunities, and a higher rate of dropping out of the labour market altogether.

But little is known about the links between graduate school and placement into these positions.  We wanted to understand whether one’s network enables MBAs to find the right opportunities, setting the stage for successful careers.

To connect features of social networks at school to job placement success, we analysed 4.5 million anonymised email correspondences among a subset of all 728 MBA graduates (74.5% men, 25.5% women) in the classes of 2006 and 2007 at a top U.S. business school. We measured job placement success by the level of authority and pay each graduate achieved after school.

Network Smarter, Not Harder

Studies suggest that women can benefit from taking a strategic approach to networking.

First, seek quality over quantity in your overall network. Keep in mind in this context, is less a function of how many people you know but who those people are.  Identifying and connecting with people who are connected to multiple networks is a key strategy.

Related to that point is the idea of embracing randomness. The more you associate with similar-minded or experienced people, the less likely you will be to diversify your network and inner circle. Because we tend to target actively when we network, we are prone to restrict targeting to people most like ourselves.

How do you break the pattern? Try random selection. We found that the random sorting of business-school students into sections, for example, raised the odds that female students will befriend those with experience and goals beyond their own, again expanding their knowledge and contacts in career-enhancing ways. Randomness democratizes the networking process, ultimately enhancing it.

Finally, beware a closed inner circle. When your inner circle is too interconnected—the people within it are similar and have similar contacts—it can feel socially secure but fail to generate key insights and opportunities. Workplace or industry affinity groups, for example, become closed structures in many cases. There’s nothing wrong with being part of such a group, but try to complement it with others representing more diverse experience and connections.

Employers, too, can aim to create more diverse small groups, to promote the development of women. Rather than creating just an affinity group of female coders, for example, populate a separate group with members from a cross-section of the organization that increase the chances of making unexpected connections, to better inform and support individuals.

Various studies also suggest 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. The good news is that by taking a smart approach, women can continue to find meaningful advancement possibilities while helping their peers and more junior contacts do the same.

Recent studies suggest women require a female-only inner circle in order to thrive and a larger well-connected networking system in regards to professional advancement. Men, on the other hand, do not do so well when engaging in a same-sex inner circle at all. All in all, it can be concluded that, for women, a networking system is simply not enough. It is clear that women have to network smarter and quite differently than men. It may sound exhausting, but it’s definitely worth it.

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