To attain leadership positions, men and women need different types of professional networks, writes Brian Uzzi, the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at Northwestern University‘s Kellogg School of Management, for Harvard Business Review.
Uzzi and collaborators Yang Yang and Nitesh Chawla recently analyzed student networks to determine which types of relationships help new male and female MBAs land executive leadership positions. The researchers analyzed 4.5 million anonymized email correspondences among 728 MBA grads (74.5% men and 25.5% women) at a top U.S. business school, then measured grads’ job placement success by their authority level and salary.
Their research suggests that while men benefit from being central in a network—that is, being connected to multiple people with contacts across different groups—women benefit from being central in a network only if they also have an inner circle of close female contacts.
For men, “being central puts dispersed information in ready reach,” writes Uzzi. That information includes who’s hiring, the salaries different firms are offering, how long it takes to get promoted, and even how to optimize their resumes to land the job.
Therefore, men in the top quartile of centrality tended to perform the best in the job market, writes Uzzi. These men secured jobs with 1.5 times more authority and pay than their male peers in the bottom quartile of centrality.
But while the ability to access job market information is also beneficial to women, women need an inner circle of close female friends who can clue them into private information, such as an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders. An inner circle of close female friends is beneficial because “women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not,” writes Uzzi.
For instance, women in the top quartile of centrality who also had an inner circle of one to three women landed leadership positions with 2.5 times more authority and pay than their female peers who lacked this combination. But women who had similar networks to the most successful men—that is, women with high centrality but no female-dominated inner circle—placed into leadership positions with the lowest authority and pay.
Uzzi therefore recommends that women seeking leadership positions build their networks strategically. After all, high centrality isn’t about how many people you know, but who you know.
Uzzi also recommends women embrace randomness to diversify their network and inner circle. He notes that “the best inner circles for women were those in which the women were closely connected to each other but had minimal contacts in common.”
For faculty looking to help students create beneficial networks, Uzzi recommends randomly sorting students into sections to democratize the networking process and improve the odds that female students will befriend peers with different experiences and goals (Uzzi, Harvard Business Review, 2/25).