„In the context of career advancement, the notion that ‚It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know‘ holds some truth. However, for many women, this concept presents unique challenges. Despite the potential career benefits of building high-status connections within an organization, research has long shown that women face greater obstacles in establishing such connections compared to men.“

Harvard Business Review presents a study that both confirms the specific challenges women face in building networks and provides a roadmap for overcoming them.

“By understanding and leveraging the power of shared social connections, women as individuals can navigate around systemic biases and forge valuable professional ties that propel their careers forward. For organizations committed to gender equality, their study provides a clear directive: Invest in building network sponsor programs that recognize and use the distinct pathways through which women can achieve high-status connections.”

Summary of the study findings:

  • Men benefit more from personal contact with senior executives than women do. Assertiveness is more commonly attributed to men as a measure of potential performance. This gender-specific perception of competence creates barriers for women and denies them recognition. However, when women behave similarly “masculine,” they are often seen as too dominant, which also harms them.

  • To counterbalance this, it is helpful to establish high-level connections through a respected third party who introduces the junior to the executive. This increases her credibility and grants her access to circles that would otherwise remain closed due to prejudice. “Third-party ties allow women to be seen through the prism of their strengths and competencies rather than through a lens clouded by societal preconceptions.”

  • Even informal networks, which are not primarily for career advancement but for building trusting relationships with mutual support, can be beneficial.
    What should companies do? “Create Network Sponsor Programs”: The most influential network sponsors are rarely found at the top of the status hierarchy. They often occupy a middle position, which allows them to act as credible intermediaries between both parties.

Women with long-term tenure as sponsors increase the chances of younger women being admitted into high-level networks most effectively.

Particularly effective: a “female triplet” – connecting a junior colleague with a sponsor and a female executive.

“Combine local contact with global reach”: It is advantageous for junior women to have sponsors in the same geographical location. These sponsors, in turn, can effectively support them if their own high-status contacts are located elsewhere.

herVIEW - Natascha Hoffner

Posted by Natascha Hoffner, Founder & CEO of herCAREER, WiWo columnist, LinkedIn TOP Voice 2020, W&V 2019 – 100 Köpfe
published on LinkedIn on 10.04.2024