Ladies, Here's How You Can Network To Attain Leadership Positions Effective networking really does play an important role in career success

By Pooja Singh

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Love it or hate it, but you can't escape it. Networking is an essential part of our professional lives, something that can make or even break careers. That, however, doesn't mean you start talking to anyone and everyone. Rather, you first need to study to understand whom you should interact with and how.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University in the US say men and women need to network differently to advance in their respective careers. In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they say women who communicate regularly with a female-dominated inner circle are more likely to attain high-ranking leadership positions.

Where Differences Lie

Though the research by Yang Yang, Nitesh V. Chawla and Brian Uzzi is based on more than four million email correspondences among 728 business school graduates in top US business schools, the researchers believe their work can be extended to most business situations. Each student in the study had accepted leadership-level positions. Researchers then compared each volunteer's social network on three bases: network centrality, or the size of the social network; gender homophily, or the proportion of same-sex contacts; and communication equality, or the amount of strong versus weak network ties.

After controlling for students' personal characteristics, work experience, and academic performance, the researchers found that students' social networks strongly predict placement into leadership positions. The research showed that over 75 per cent of high-ranking women maintained a female-dominated inner circle, or strong ties to two or three women whom they communicated with frequently within their network. When it came to men, the larger their network, irrespective of the gender makeup, the more likely they are to earn a high-ranking position. That could perhaps explain why women make up less than five per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs and fewer than a quarter of Fortune 500 board members.

When women have social networks that resemble their male counterparts, they are more likely to hold low-ranking positions, the researchers say.

"Although both genders benefit from developing large social networks after graduate school, women's communication patterns, as well as the gender composition of their network, significantly predict their job placement level," says Chawla, Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Notre Dame, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications and co-author of the study. "The same factors -- communication patterns and gender composition of a social network -- have no significant effect for men landing high-ranking positions."

Explaining the reason behind the difference, Uzzi, the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, writes in a February article in the Harvard Business Review, "... 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. 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 Numbers Speak

Going into the specifics, the study says women with a high network centrality and a female-dominated inner circle have an expected job placement level that is 2.5 times greater than women with low network centrality and a male-dominated inner circle. When it comes to achieving leadership positions, women are not likely to benefit from adding the best-connected person to their network. While those connections may improve access to public information important to job search and negotiations, female-dominated inner circles can help women gain gender-specific information that would be more important in a male-dominated job market.

"We also saw that inner circles benefit from each other, suggesting that women gain gender-specific private information and support from their inner circle, while non-overlapping connections provide other job market details," says Prof. Chawla.

Pooja Singh

Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific


A stickler for details, Pooja Singh likes telling people stories. She has previously worked with Mint-Hindustan Times, Down To Earth and Asian News International-Reuters. 

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