Gender and networking: Building and benefiting from high status ties in the workplace
Meredith Woehler, Kristin Cullen-Lester, Houston LesterA great deal of research suggests women continue to face informal barriers in the workplace. One such arena in which women tend to be disadvantaged is in their networks of workplace relationships. In many ways, men and women have similar networks, yet women are less likely than their men counterparts to have personal relationships with high status coworkers (Brass, 1985; Ibarra, Carter, & Sillva, 2010; Lang, 2011). Scholars have long suggested that these strategic connections are valuable and may be especially beneficial to or necessary for women. Networking has long been touted as one way women can overcome workplace disadvantage (Baker, 1994; Wellington & Catalyst, 2001) by changing their networks to develop such high status contacts and/or capitalize on such connections (Hewlett et al., 2010), which can enable their success at work. However, networking is a considerable investment and has been called women’s “third shift,” after work and family responsibilities. Thus, it is vital that we understand how women and men can best capitalize on their investments in networking.
This research seeks to add to our scholarly understanding by examining the research question: To what extent can men and women translate their networking behaviors into high status connections and capitalize on those connections to enhance their performance and job satisfaction. Results from a multimethod field study of professional employees suggest networking behaviors enable both men and women to have friends with higher informal status. Alternatively, while men’s networking behaviors are related to having higher ranking (formal status) friends, women’s networking behaviors are related to having lower ranking friends. This difference is largely functional. These higher ranking friends benefit men’s performance, while these lower ranking friends benefit women’s performance. The question remains: Is this functional difference purposeful? Specifically, are men seeking out higher status connections, while women are seeking out lower status connections? Post-hoc analyses begin to explore the possibility that these gender differences are due to (i) choices made by versus (ii) others’ reactions to men and women networkers, suggesting this difference may be due to gender differences in networking strategies (i.e., the choice explanation). A second study uses multimethod, longitudinal data to examine these two possibilities further, shedding light on whether men and women who seek out high status (or low status) connections through their networking behaviors are able to develop such connections. This research sheds light on how and why men and women develop and capitalize on high status connections, providing practical implications for employees and organizations seeking to intervene to enable women and men to develop high status connections.