Shared from the 1/26/2019 Star Tribune eEdition

Successful women, men network in different ways

Study looked at how female leaders get ahead.

Landing an executive leadership role at a major company often requires making connections with the right people. Graduate students seeking high-ranking corporate jobs are encouraged to build a network of diverse and influential contacts and to avoid cliques.

That advice often works — for men. After all, the leaders of corporate America are overwhelmingly men: Women make up fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and fewer than a quarter of Fortune 500 board members, according to the Pew Research Center.

But for women, a new study suggests, networking like a man is simply not enough. For women seeking to break into a leadership position in the corporate world, the key to success may in fact lie in other women.

A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the most successful female job-seekers from a top-ranked graduate school relied not only on a wide network of contacts, but also on a close inner circle of other women who provide support and gender-specific job advice.

“When you talk to students on the ground, many of them think, ‘The way for me to achieve the things I want in life is to emulate the network that men have,’ ” said Brian Uzzi, an author of the study and a leadership professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “Some women do, and those are the women who do the absolute worst.”

The study’s authors focused on a group of 728 students in their late 20s and early 30s at a top-ranked graduate business program between 2006 and 2007. About three-quarters of the students were men, and about a quarter of them were women.

To examine the link between students’ social networks and their eventual job placements, the authors analyzed 4.55 million e-mails sent among all the students. Then they collected data about each student’s job placement .

After controlling for factors such as a student’s work experience and academic performance, the authors found that students’ social networks strongly predicted their placement into leadership positions. Among the men, the more influential connections a male student had , the higher his leadership placement would be.

But among women, the authors were surprised by the findings: 77 percent of the highest-achieving women had strong ties with an inner circle of two to three other women. The lowest-achieving women had a male-dominated network and weaker ties with other women in their network.

Having a tightknit circle of female friends provided women with a support system as they navigated the job market. The women in these circles would share company information specific to women, such as details about a company’s workplace culture for women.

“That kind of support, we hypothesize, helps propel women into leadership positions,” said Nitesh Chawla, a co-author of the study and a computer science and engineering professor at the University of Notre Dame. “They can apply for jobs that are a better match.”

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