⦁ In organizations with gender parity, forces other than gender bias influence how people form networks.
⦁ Important drivers help women build more effective, “boundary-spanning“ networks.
⦁ “Efficient collaborations” challenge beliefs.
⦁ The bonds women form sustain longer than the bondsmen form; women’s relationships turn out to be “stickier.”
⦁ Successful people’s most important “network driver” is their ability to motivate and energize other people.
In organizations with gender parity, forces other than gender bias influence how people form networks.
Organizational networks are traditionally the main mechanism men use for career success. Women are often shut out of these coalitions. This may be one manifestation of “implicit bias,” the kind of unconscious stereotypes that cause people to prefer to connect with those who look most like them.
Fortune 500 companies spend more than $4 billion in implicit bias training, but studies show that companies that mandate diversity training end up less diverse. In firms with roughly equal numbers of men and women, other influences matter more than gender. People form relationships based on similarities and – if they’re in the minority – they tend to cluster by gender. When people who work together get to know one another, the basis for their affinity changes: They grow into having a shared viewpoint.
Important drivers help women build more effective, “boundary-spanning” networks.
The number of people in your network doesn’t matter as much as its “structural diversity.” While leaders often have close-knit networks, those whose networks span boundaries of the company, gender, field, and other differences are more successful. Consider five kinds of connection:
⦁ “Emergence/creativity” – These contacts facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas and build bridges across silos.
⦁ “Depth/best practice” – These contacts put you in touch with people with expertise in your field across geography, company, or other boundaries.
⦁ “Professional growth” – These contacts are mentors who help you fill the gaps in your expertise.
⦁ “Vertical ties” – These contacts are sponsors who have a positive impact on your career trajectory. Generally, sponsors who are two or more steps higher in the organization initiate these arrangements to promote talent.
⦁ “Sensemaking/landscape” – These contacts help you reach across the gaps between people and various stakeholders.
Consider your projects over the next six months. What network contacts will you need to develop?
“Efficient collaborations” challenge beliefs.
Women are more comfortable with ambiguity than men are, and they don’t use networks to reinforce their beliefs. Women are less likely to pursue excessive collaboration to gain recognition, and they tend to create less additional work or unnecessary stress. Yet, men are more comfortable saying no to time requests than women, perhaps because colleagues penalize women more than men for not fulfilling such a request. Women can better manage these collegial demands by being transparent about their time conflicts and imposing a structure – terms of time, priorities, and roles – on collaborations.
“Women also are more susceptible to performance degradation from switching costs – moving from one cognitive task to another. This is a subtle but very important way that collaborative overload hurts performance.”
Women should not over-prepare for meetings but should realize that efficiently running a meeting requires focusing teams on their desired outcomes. To “pull rather than push” successful collaborations, women must provide a vision of collective success, mutual purpose, and shared ownership of results. Women tend to spend less time daily reflecting on their schedule and their work than men do. They should make room for this “higher-level thinking.”
The bonds women form last longer than the bondsmen form; women’s relationships turn out to be “stickier.”
In general, due to their longer-lasting, more sticky relationships, women may face more collaborative demands. Women exceed at “external” relationships that they maintain over various career moves. Thus, they reinforce the “boundary-spanning” benefits of their network to access potential job or sales opportunities. Men’s relationships tend to be more “instrumental,” and they share fewer intimacies.
Network “churn” is healthy; people with effective networks continuously build new ties and let others go. The most successful people “refine” their networks over time, especially during periods of transition.
“By taking part in events hosted by other companies – and by inviting their network to participate in their own companies’ events – successful women build their organizations’ expertise and brand along with their own.”
Bring people into your network who reflect new perspectives or add expertise for your current projects. Maintain your connection with trusted advisers. Your established relationships are great for personal support and truthful feedback. Your network relationships should support your professional aspirations.
Successful people’s most important “network driver” is their ability to motivate and energize other people.
People naturally respond positively to “energizers,” those who encourage new ideas instead of devaluing or belittling them. Energizers’ engagement brings opportunities, talent, and ideas to their network.
“The real magic comes from what they bring out in others. Energizers attract other high performers, have lower attrition rates and higher engagement scores…”
Research shows that people identify women as the energizers in their networks more often than men. While women most value the “benevolence-based trust” they feel with an energizer, men value “competence-based trust” more. Build your reputation for competence and avoid disparaging your accomplishments. People need to trust both your competence and your benevolence. When you’re a good listener, people see you in particular as someone who has their best interests in mind. Such trust matters in maintaining such network relationships.
Get to know people beyond the task at hand. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, be fully present with others when you are together. Follow through on your commitments. Maintain a positive outlook. Use humor to navigate tense situations. Help people see fresh opportunities and new ideas.
About the Authors
Connected Commons pioneers research into the impact and importance of organizational networks. Inga Carboni is an associate professor in Organizational Behavior at the College of William & Mary. Rob Cross is Chief Research Scientist for Connected Commons and the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College. Aaron Page is a research associate at the University of Exeter Business School, where professor Andrew Parker directs the Exeter Centre for Social Networks.