By Julia Boorstin
While much has been said about how the gender wage gap, the motherhood penalty, and the caregiving crisis have impacted the glass ceiling, very little discussion has been had about networking and its impact on a woman’s career. In her latest book, “When Women Lead: What They Achieve, Why They Succeed, and How We Can Learn from Them,” CNBC’s Senior Media and Tech Correspondent Julia Boorstin explores how gender differences in networking play a key role in how men and women advance in the workplace.
“Women, researchers have found, have been less frequent and avid networkers than men,” Boorstin writes. “They tend to be reluctant to mix business and pleasure; though women generally have more close friends than men do, research indicates that they are less likely to use their wider-ranging personal connections for professional advancement.” Due to the way women have been socialized to ask for help, the author explains that many women are comfortable with lending a helping hand to a business contact, but uncomfortable with receiving that same help. That’s why when asked about their most recent promotion, more men than women credited someone in their network with helping them land their new role.
Ahead, in an exclusive excerpt from Boorstin’s book, available now on simonandschuster.com, she explains how networking differences can lead to gender gaps in promotions, raises, and leadership jobs. And why now more than ever, it’s time for women to tap into environments and networks that destigmatize the notion of them asking for help.
— Courtney Connley
Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster
Excerpt from “When Women Lead: What They Achieve, Why They Succeed, and How We Can Learn from Them.”
Every year a nonprofit organization called Conferences for Women hosts annual events in four states across the country. After its Philadelphia conference in 2016, speaker Shawn Achor, who had spoken at the conference, told the stranger sitting next to him on his flight home about what he’d seen as an impactful event. His seatmate was skeptical. What evidence did Achor have that such events made any tangible impact on the fortunes of its attendees? Wasn’t it all just corporate snake oil with a splash of gender thrown in? The cynicism provoked something in Achor, who was a best-selling author and researcher in the field of positive psychology, so he partnered with his wife, Michelle Gielan, also a researcher on happiness, to see whether the value of the event could be proved one way or another. Luckily, they already had a randomized control group: the hundreds of women who had signed up for an upcoming conference.
What he discovered after surveying the conference attendees and the control group would have startled his cynical seatmate. Of the women who had attended the conferences in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Texas, 42 percent of them had received a promotion within a year. Those who had yet to attend their conference — the control group — had just an 18 percent promotion rate. And the findings of what had started as a kind of Delta Air Lines bar bet didn’t stop there: three times as many women who had attended the event had earned a raise.
It was a notable impact, but what happened at the conference that motivated such a meaningful difference? Women, researchers have found, have been less frequent and avid networkers than men. They tend to be reluctant to mix business and pleasure; though women generally have more close friends than men do, research indicates that they are less likely to use their wider-ranging personal connections for professional advancement. In the 2010 report The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling, the economist and professor Sylvia Ann Hewlett and her colleagues wrote that although women are happy to do favors for business contacts, they have an aversion to asking for such favors. (Men, on the other hand, are much more comfortable engaging in the negotiating and horse trading of offering and asking for things.)
This discomfort is also reflected in how women approach asking for recognition: they are less likely to use their network and more likely to rely on their credentials and track record when it comes to advancing their careers. (When asked how they had gotten their most recent promotion, 57 percent of men cited personal connections, compared to 48 percent of women.) Women and men seem to disagree fundamentally about what matters most to succeed in business; the vast majority of men, a staggering 83 percent, said that who you know counts for a lot, at least as much as how well you do your job. In contrast, 77 percent of women said they believe that promotion is a result of hard work, long hours, and education credentials.
The reason something like Conferences for Women could have such a huge impact on women’s careers, Achor realized, is that it enabled them to do something that they haven’t been socialized to do on their own: aggressively network. The organization created a structure that made it okay to foster relationships explicitly for professional advancement.
In the years since, more research has been done that reveals that networking has a different impact on women than men. A 2019 study by researchers at Notre Dame and Northwestern Universities examined the social networks of successful men and women: for a man, the larger his network, the more likely he was to ascend to a high-ranking position. But for a woman, it wasn’t network size that led to professional advancement — it was an inner circle of strong ties to two or three women with whom they communicated frequently that yielded the biggest gains. Women with those kinds of relationships landed in leadership positions that were 2.5 times higher in authority (and pay) as those of their female peers who lacked that combination, and could access their network’s understanding of organizations’ attitude toward women, how to navigate job searches, and negotiation strategies.
There’s more to the value of adding new women to a network, outside your established social circle. Not only do people from outside your work or friend group bring new perspectives, but studies have found that outsiders prompt people to re-examine their own thought processes and assumptions, to a more effective end. A range of studies have found that diverse groups solve problems better — and that applies to networks of women who come together to coach each other through tackling their work challenges. The more women come together in environments that destigmatize asking for help, the more women will be able to tap into one another’s power.