How Men and Women Aspiring to Leadership Network Differently

While men often leverage large social networks to find high-level leadership roles, women with the same goal also tend to rely on a close inner circle of other women, according to a new study.

Networking is an essential element of career-building in many professions, including association management. But, as a new study points out, networking often works differently based on gender.

In a recent report [for purchase] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University found that large social networks are essential for men seeking to advance into a leadership role, but women often rely on close inner circles dominated by other women.

The study, based on an analysis of 700 former graduate students from prominent business schools, found that more than three-quarters of women in high-level roles had inner circles largely made up of other women. Women with this type of network were  two and a half times more likely to have a high-ranking leadership position.

The men studied, meanwhile, tended to do best when they had sizable social networks that they were at the center of—a finding that stood even when factors such as grades and work experience were taken into account.

“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,” Notre Dame computer science professor and study coauthor Nitesh V. Chawla said in a news release.

Women’s close inner circles often helped the graduates uncover important inside information about leadership roles, said Northwestern’s Brian Uzzi, another coauthor, in an article for Harvard Business Review.

“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,” he wrote. “The good news is that by taking a smart approach, women can continue to find meaningful advancement options, while helping their peers and more junior contacts do the same.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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