The Secrets of Successful Female Networkers

A commonly discussed reason why many female executives struggle to reach top management positions is that they often lack access to informal networks within their organisations and industries. Some attribute this to unconscious bias, suggesting that senior male executives find it easier to connect with other men. Others point to the additional professional and personal responsibilities that women often bear, such as office management tasks and childcare duties, which leave them less time to cultivate professional connections. 

A recent study conducted by William & Mary School of Business, a significant contribution to the field, sheds light on the strategies employed by successful female executives. The researchers analysed data from 16,500 men and women across more than 30 organisations spanning various industries over the past 15 years. They also interviewed hundreds of female executives, leading them to identify four key characteristics that set apart the networking behaviours of more successful women from their peers. 


Firstly, top women in the study were found to be efficient in shaping their professional network. Research indicates that women face more collaborative demands in the workplace than men. Despite feeling pressure to help colleagues and be team players, these successful female networkers actively resist these demands. They prioritise essential appointments, deflect low-priority decisions and requests, conduct streamlined meetings, establish efficient email communication norms, and allocate time for reflection and high-level thinking. 


According to the researchers’ data, most women tend to have more enduring relationships, especially with female peers, which become stronger, more mutual, and more interconnected over time. However, successful female networks exhibit greater flexibility. Senior women understand the importance of shifting focus from old connections to new ones by deliberately cutting ties or naturally allowing relationships to fade. While it’s important for women to maintain some long-standing advisers, they should actively seek out new connections.

Crossing Boundaries

The most senior and well-connected women actively engage with individuals across diverse functions, geographic locations, and business units. Conversely, less successful female networkers often avoid this approach due to discomfort or concerns about appearing too self-promotional. They may feel apprehensive about potential “backlash” or becoming overwhelmed. However, boundary-spanning behaviour is essential for accessing new information, driving innovation, and pursuing career advancement, regardless of gender.

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