Women who communicate regularly with an inner circle made up predominately of other women are more likely to achieve high-ranking leadership positions, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University.
Researchers found that more than 75 percent of high-ranking women maintained a woman-dominated inner circle or had strong ties to and communicated frequently with two or three women in their network. However, when women have social networks that resemble their male counterparts’, they are more likely to hold low-ranking positions.
For men, the gender makeup of their network made less difference, the study found. The larger their social network, the more likely men were to earn a high-ranking position.
“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,” Nitesh V. Chawla, a professor at Notre Dame and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “The same factors — communication patterns and gender composition of a social network — have no significant effect for men landing high-ranking positions.”
For the study, researchers reviewed social and communication networks of more than 700 former graduate students from a top-ranked business school. Each student had accepted leadership-level positions. Taking their industries and region-specific salaries into account, researchers compared three variables of each student’s social network: the size of the network, the proportion of same-sex contacts and the amount of strong versus weak network ties.
The study found women with large networks and woman-dominated inner circles have an expected job placement level 2.5 times greater than women with small networks and inner circles dominated by men.
When it comes to attaining leadership roles, women are not likely to benefit from adding the best-connected person to their network, according to the researchers. While those connections may improve access to public information important to job search and negotiations, woman-dominated inner circles provide women with gender-specific insights that help them navigate a job market dominated by men.
“In this context, such an inner circle can provide trustworthy, gender-relevant information about job cultures and social support, which are very important to women in male-dominated settings,” Yang Yang, a research assistant professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, said in a statement. Yang led the study with Brian Uzzi, Richard L. Thomas professor of leadership and organizational change at Kellogg.