Updated: Aug 22, 2022
Lean In, Allbright, PWN, Elevate - Women’s networks are on the rise – for a good reason. They provide access to resources many might find hard to acquire and connection to similar people with similar challenges. In an attempt to offer the same to own employees pioneering companies are starting to offer internal female-centered networks too. But is it really worth it?
Women’s networks are everywhere – in businesses, tech, startups, medicine, journalism and within companies. Let's start by understanding why female-centered networks are important. Looking at labour statistics and research regarding networking, the case becomes clear quite fast:
First of all, women hold 57 % of all jobs worldwide – which, in its core, is a good thing. However, the majority of business-world is still represented by men. Only 29 % of senior management roles worldwide are held by women. In technology, which increasingly determines our present and future, just about 25 % of computing jobs are held by women.
Many companies and organizations don’t consider that women work and network differently than men.
Considering these numbers, women still are a minority in a lot of constellations. While that might be a solvable problem, many companies and organizations don’t consider that women work and network differently than men – which can be a major hurdle. Our entire professional landscape is designed for men, including the way we network. Only today, we are finally becoming aware of it and starting to make a change – and women's networks are part of it. In order to get a clearer picture, let's look at the difference between women and men for a minute.
differences among networking styles - a scientific argument
Fortunately, there’s some precise research on how women and men differ in their networking styles. In 2006 and 2007, Brian Uzzi, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the American Kellogg School of Management, analyzed over 4,5 million emails of 728 MBA graduates (75 % men, 25 % women) to find out which types of networks makes people thrive.
What Uzzi found was that male MBA students with a broad (really broad) network performed best in the job market and secured themselves jobs with more authority and pay. Additionally, with a broad network, individual characteristics such as test scores, work experience or GPA turned secondary.
Women who solely networked like men focusing on centrality rather than quality ranked among the lowest in authority and pay.
Successful women, on the other hand, had a very broad network just like successful men but they also had a closer circle of female contacts with whom they could discuss unique problems. Women who solely networked like men focusing on centrality rather than quality ranked among the lowest in authority and pay. Therefore, the study suggests that women benefit from some kind of inner circle – whose members, at best, have minimal contacts in common.
the three types of women's networks
Now that we acknowledged that women tend to have different needs in terms of networking in order to thrive – what better place could provide that than a women’s network?
Generally, there are three types of women’s networks with each one providing unique benefits:
Networks of women in similar positions which allow their members to share strategies since they face similar situations (e.g. women only networks, leaders-level communities)
Networks of diverse women which create the opportunity to meet women that are unlike than oneself but could be helpful financially or politically (e.g. mentoring programs or career networks such as the female factor)
Networks that provide their members access to resources they might find hard to acquire (e.g. a financial community for women)
While some networks might fall into exactly one category, most will be a hybrid of two or even all three of those categories. Company-internal networks are most likely a mixture between the first two options, fostering exchange and a strong network within their own employees.
the three C's to success
Networks on their own are great already, but not enough. In order to make the most out of them, women should focus on the three C’s, – “ beyond the (1) connections of a network, women must also have the (2) competence and the (3) confidence to reach their full potential.
"Beyond the connections of a network, women must also have the competence and the confidence to reach their full professional potential." – Tanja Sternbauer, co-founder & ceo | the female factor
Only if women’s networks combine activities that build confidence, connections and (professional or personal) competences, they're likely to have the lasting impact needed to achieve global female empowerment. After all, we might need to re-think old school networking overall.
why the importance of women's networks is unquestionable
Eventually, women's networks are crucial for equality. They provide close connections to other women who might encounter similar struggles while still creating a diverse enough environment for personal and professional growth. Or as Brian Uzzi puts it: “[the study] suggests that women face a greater challenge in networking to find professional opportunities – they, more than men, need to maintain both wide networks and informative inner circles in order to land the best positions.” That’s why we need women’s networks.
Joining a women’s network [...] can result in important, lasting relationships and a major boost in confidence and capacity.
Furthermore, women's networks emphasize quality over quantity which is a key strategy for creating a reliable, secure network – and most of them embrace the three C’s of connection, competence and confidence. On the individual level, joining a women’s network means stepping out of one’s closed circle and facing new people with different backgrounds – which can result in important, lasting relationships and a major boost in confidence and capacity. And who doesn’t want that?
On an organizational level, enabling female employees to inclusive women networks it is not only reassuring and is perceived as an inclusive move. It also creates a safe place for making connections, sharing information and acts like a confidence enhancer. It shows female employees that equality and inclusivity are nurtured and that both their personal and professional development are encouraged.
If you are currently evaluating the options to start or foster your company-internal female-centered network or if you would like to partner with an existing one to empower and retain your own female employees, feel free to reach out. We'd be happy to assist you.