Women benefit from close-knit group of women in workplace, NU study says

Neya Thanikachalam, Reporter

Women who have a tightly-knit inner circle comprised mostly of women are more likely to be successful in getting high-ranked positions during their job search, according to a study by researchers at Northwestern and the University of Notre Dame.

Kellogg Prof. Brian Uzzi, a co-author of the study, said he and his collaborators wanted to look at networks among successful women because there weren’t many studies about how women in graduate programs are placed in executive positions.

“(A graduate) program is essentially endorsing the fact that the individuals who graduate are indistinguishable in their managerial skills’ prowess, so you got this equalization of power,” Uzzi said. “That allows us to really take a look at whether men and women differ in the factors that determine their placement.”

The researchers found that women with both a larger, more centralized network –– which men tend to have –– and a tighter-knit network of predominantly women are 2.5 times more likely to get a leadership position at a company than women with a smaller central network and a male-dominated inner circle.

According to the study, over 75 percent of women leaders have this private network, as it provides them with gender-specific information that they wouldn’t know without it.

Uzzi said a widespread network helps women access public information about job placement, like salaries and recruitment, but the inner circle gives them access to private information that can affect their decisions in the job search. This includes knowledge on discrimination and organization cultures, he added, which are details women are more uniquely sensitive to than men.

“You can’t just have the relationship that men have, which is ‘Hey, tell me what’s going on at Apple,’” Uzzi said. “(Women) need a relationship which is like ‘What have you heard about this firm? What do people say about it?’”

Study co-author Nitesh Chawla, a professor of computer science and engineering at Notre Dame, said this private network needs to have non-overlapping contacts — or people who don’t have any relation to each other — to actually help women.

“If you have non-overlapping contacts, then you’re having a much broader, a much wider sort of a network than what you’d have otherwise,” Chawla said.

Both Uzzi and Chawla said that until the business world becomes more inclusive and diverse, women will still need an inner circle to privately receive information for their success.

This inner circle is women’s informal way of handling issues in the professional world, which still needs to change, Uzzi added.

“Every year, women take on more and more leadership roles,” Uzzi said. “The good news is, yes, it’s changing, and it’s changing in a direction where there’s more equality. But there’s still a long way to go.”

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