Networking! Some love it, others shy away from the construct. However, we can’t escape it. Networking is an important part of our professional lives and many wonder what they can do to network in a more efficient ways. Recent research from Kellogg School of Management published in PNAS has explored this precise notion and has found that there are differences in effective networks among the genders.
This research analyzed an anonymized sample of 4.55 million email correspondences among 728 graduates in top US business school. Although the authors analyzed business graduates, they believe their work can be extended to most business situations. The researchers found that after controlling for personal characteristics, academic performance and work experience, social networks strongly predicted placement into leadership positions, thus indicating effective networking plays an important role in career success. In this research authors found there are gender differences in networking. Below are three ways women need to network differently in order to see the most return on the time invested in networking.
Diversity and Randomness
Although it may be counterintuitive, diversity and randomness are an important part of networking success. We often think that if we want to be in a specific area, we must target our networking there. Not so fast! The author of the research, Prof Brian Uzzi explains that “if we target, we restrict” meaning that by targeting you are only restricting your access to information. Not only that, Prof Brian Uzzi further explains that the purpose of the network is to help you overcome your ‘blind spots.’ “The reason is that your network is most valuable to the degree that it helps you overcome your personal limitations. On the one hand, if your network is made up of people like yourself you are expending a lot of resources for redundant information and other resources and also making yourself a lot less distinctive because everyone else in the network has what you have. On the other hand, a diverse network helps you overcome a range of personal limitations, which can be cognitive biases and other “blind spots”, points of view, or skills. If you can overcome your limitations through others, you expand your influence and power by reducing your weaknesses.” Thus, by expanding your networking, you are expanding your point of view and open-mindedness, which is important for innovation. Diverse networks lead to more opportunities which can aid in career success. This is especially important to remember when women join different types of groups: the contacts in those groups need to be diverse in order for the network to be beneficial.
In order for women to succeed in the job market, they must have access to a certain type of private information. This information can be defined as negotiating strategies, interviewing, and salary information, as some examples. The reason why women need this information is because they face unique challenges in the workplace. The network made up of several strong female contacts were one feels comfortable sharing private information is an important part of networking for women. This network is dubbed the ‘inner circle.’ Prof Uzzi indicates that this network is important, “Yes – the inner circle is important because there are problems in the executive job market that women tend to experience and notice more than men and therefore are a source of information for problem solving and strategizing a job market plan. This is not to say that men are without value to women at all. It just says that women need to have women in their inner circle.” However, just as written above the inner circle, must be diverse, otherwise it will not serve as a robust network.
Along with having a diverse network, and access to private information, women also need to have access to public sort of information. The way to do that would be ‘central’ in a network — or have lots of contacts from whom you can get information. Such information may be who is hiring or the landscape of the market. Being central allows one to have an easier access to this type of information. Although being central was by far the most important for men, the research showed that women needed both centrality and inner circle in order to succeed. Thus for women, centrality needs to be combined. Thus by helping women get centrality in the network men can support women. And of course, women can support men by being in their network by brining more diversity of perspectives and experiences, and thus making their network fuller and robust, which is crucial, as mentioned above.