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Why Professional Networks Fail Women (and How to Fix It)

Network Leader
May 14, 2024
minute read

In the recent webinar hosted by Network Leader, Molly Rosen from ProjectNext Leadership and our own Kristin Cullen-Lester delved into the crucial role of gender-inclusive networks in organizational success. 

Research has shown that companies with more women in senior roles outperform their peers by a significant 15%. Inclusive networks also foster increased productivity, innovation, and overall employee well-being.

Yet, despite these benefits, many organizations struggle to create environments that support women’s career growth, often due to entrenched network-related gender biases.

Our webinar addressed the challenges women face when building their professional networks - including unequal access to senior leaders and a prevailing gender bias within professional circles, which can affect women's career trajectories.

To combat these issues, Molly and Kristin shared practical strategies aimed at fostering more inclusive and effective networks. 

21st Century Leadership Is Inclusive Leadership 

One of the highlights of our webinar “Why Professional Networks Fail Women (and How to Fix It)” was the insight that Molly shared. 

Based on the 360 leadership assessment ProjectNext Leadership has performed, Molly concludes that women tend to be rated highly for working effectively with diverse stakeholder groups. 

And it is something that they saw regardless of business, units, functions, and location of the assessment participants. 

Women are also perceived as being inclusive leaders, whose approach benefits not only women in general but also overall employee engagement. 

Molly concludes that “21st century leadership is inclusive leadership - and women overall are seen as doing this well”. 

Watch the full clip here.

Connecting to High-Status People Can Actually Hurt Women

One of the things that both Kristin, Molly, and our attendees found frustrating - is what Kristin referred to as “network blow-back.” 

She explained that networks function in two ways: both as pipes that bring resources to people and as prisms that impact how others perceive you (and how you might even perceive yourself)

Our society (still) has different expectations and roles for men and women, and those can affect gender inequality within the workplace. 

Unlike it is for men, it is not expected for women to be power-seeking. In fact, as a recent study from Siyu Yu and Catherine Shea revealed that connecting with high-status people within their workgroup can actually hurt women’s status.

One of the ways to minimize this effect is to clarify one’s motive for having these types of connections, positioning them as being used to help the group as a whole. 

See the clip below:

Removing the Obstacles and Making Networking More Equitable

Women tend to face obstacles that prevent them from creating effective professional networks:

  • Networking aversion
  • Time
  • Inner critic
  • Concerns about inappropriate relationships
  • Blow-back

Organizations usually plan their networking events after working hours - making it more difficult for women to participate, as they tend to have more responsibilities at home. 

To make networking easier and more equitable for women, our guests concluded that organizations should aim to hold more of their networking events during working hours. An investment that is surely going to pay off. 

See what our guests commented on how women’s inner critics tend to be louder in the clip below:

Effective Leadership Is both Vertical and Horizontal

Molly and her team conducted a few research studies looking at how people at the director, VP, and C-suite levels spend their time and approach network-building. 

They paid special attention to VPs that have a reputation for achieving big goals without destroying relationships in their way. 

The key takeaway was that highly effective VPs spend as much time with their peers as they do with their teams. 

Their ability to build and nurture relationships with peers across departments, functions, and even locations - is an essential ingredient to their success. 

Highly effective VPs approach leadership and networking both vertically - and horizontally. 

Watch the full clip below:

Our recent webinar highlighted actionable steps that organizations can take to dismantle cultural biases and create a supportive environment for all employees.

Watch the full webinar here.

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