Encouraging your women employees to forge external ties may not sound like the missing piece of a retention strategy. But studies show that women climb the career ladder when they have a strong network – and that they network very differently to men.
With the world of work traditionally set up for men, networking has historically served men better than women.
Yet women do well when they have an ‘inner circle’, according to studies. They look for organic relationships forged by shared experiences such as gender or career stage.
Men network more strategically, forming alliances rather than relationships.
Limited opportunities make employees quit
After salary, limited opportunities for promotion is the top reason given by staff for leaving, according to recruiter Robert Half.
More than a fifth (22 percent) of executives they surveyed in 2014 cited limited opportunities as the thing most likely to make them quit. A slightly higher 28 percent said an inadequate salary and benefits would make them walk, while another 12 percent said it was a lack of recognition.
What would make you quit your job?
- Inadequate salary and benefits 28%
- Limited opportunities for advancement 22%
- Unhappiness with management 14%
- Overworked 12%
- Lack of recognition 12%
Source: Robert Half, 2014
Replacing staff is expensive
Retention is not only good for business, though, it’s cheaper. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) estimates that it costs six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace them.
And resigning staff persuaded to stay with higher salaries left within two years anyway, Robert Half found.
SHRM also found that female managers were less likely to feel included in key company networks than male managers. Up to 65 percent of women felt excluded.
‘Imperative that leaders look at gender gaps’
“Organisations with a higher proportion of women in leadership positions experience improved business outcomes, including greater innovation and productivity,” says Emily Dickens, SHRM’s chief of staff and head of government affairs.
“Yet women are still under-represented in the C-suite.
“In a climate where it’s harder than ever to source and retain talent, it’s imperative that business leaders take a closer look at the gender gaps that exist across their organisations to see that every employee has the opportunity to realise their full potential.”
Study 1: The inner circle
In a seminal study on women and networking, Brian Uzzi professor of leadership and organisational change at the US Kellogg School of Management, analysed millions of emails sent by 728 MBA graduates (a quarter of whom were women).
He found that male MBA students with a very broad network performed best in the job market, securing jobs with more authority and pay.
Women, he found, needed an ‘inner circle’ of close female contacts to help them achieve high-level executive positions – even though they had similar qualifications and experience to their male counterparts.
Almost four-fifths (77 percent) of the highest-achieving women in the study had strong ties with an inner circle of two to three other women.
Women who formed that strong inner circle were nearly three times more likely to be promoted than women who did not have such a support system.
And women who tried to network like men actually did the worst in their careers.
Study 2: The benefit of women-led networks
Gender inequality in the workplace is partly caused by the networking gap, according to research published in Human Relations in 2018 by Marjo-Riitta Diehl and co-authors.
‘Structural exclusion’ such as evening networking sessions hit women harder, they found, because of work-family conflicts.
But in any case, women were looking for a different type of network. Women tend to seek emotional and social support from their networks, they said.
Men preferred a ‘cost-benefit analysis’. They sought an exchange of direct benefits, such as promotion opportunities and job openings.
In interviews with 37 women business leaders at large corporations, the researchers found that the sense of reciprocity bestowed by women’s networks was empowering for members.
They also found that women felt a moral obligation to support junior associates – and were therefore more likely to ‘network down’ by cultivating relationships with lower-level colleagues.
Study 3: Peer networks offer strength
‘Organic’ networking was favoured by early-stage career women, over the more ‘strategic’ networking that men preferred, a 2016 paper written by Terhi Nokkala, an education researcher at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and co-authors found.
Studying women academics – a field low in gender equality – they concluded that women wanted organic relationships from a shared experience such as gender or career stage.
The women they interviewed all recognised the benefits of strategic networking. As a result, they ‘blended’ their networking to achieve both career objectives and professional and personal satisfaction”.
The leaky pipeline: Stats on women at work
- Women account for just 31 percent of senior roles globally – Grant Thornton, 2021
- One in four women in the corporate world is considering downsizing their career or leaving the workforce altogether – McKinsey, 2021
- For every 100 men promoted, only 79 women are – McKinsey, 2018
- Some 51 percent of mothers with children under 18 find it harder to advance their career as a mother, compared to 16 percent of working fathers – Pew Research Center, 2013
NOORA: the missing piece
“Aurora50 spoke to many women before launching NOORA this month,” says co-founder Diana Wilde. “We have provided networking opportunities for three years to women board directors, with Pathway20 and Manarat. And we have offered networking at scale with our summits.
“But now we want to widen the scope, to offer a UAE network to all senior professional career women working in corporate environments.
“We believe that women network well, when they are in the right network. As Terhi Nokkala says, strong ties with peers offer strength. Meeting peers at the same level but in different corporations provides an opportunity to talk openly about shared issues. We want women to rise together, through the ranks.
‘Women should start networking early’
“Right now, we only offer corporate packages to organisations. You can buy bundled membership for a dozen – or dozens – of your high-potential women employees. (There’s a waitlist if you want to buy membership for yourself.)
“We think women should start networking early (before they get too senior and realise they’re alone at the top), so we offer two levels: a lobby for first-time managers and a mezzanine for more senior women who are already managers of managers.
“Now is the time to make networking work for women. And to give your future women leaders their future inner circle.”