Turns out that the idea of women helping women is more than just a platitude that your women’s studies professor had posted on her wall. A new study by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University reveals that women who have a solid support group of other women are more likely to attain high-ranking leadership positions.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the link between students’ graduate school social networks and placement into leadership positions. They followed 700 former graduate students from a top-ranked U.S. business school as they were accepted into leadership-level positions. They then looked at the size of each person’s social network; the proportion of same-sex contacts; and how strong their network ties were.
They found that more than 75% of high-ranking women had strong ties to a female-dominated inner circle, or at least strong ties to two or three women whom they communicated with frequently. Those women with a wide network and a female-dominated inner circle had an expected job placement level that is 2.5 times greater than women with small networks and a male-dominated inner circle. For men, if they had a large network, regardless of gender, they were more likely to earn a high-ranking position. Women who had social networks that resembled that of their male counterparts were more likely to hold low-ranking positions.
“Although both genders benefit from developing large social networks after graduate school, women’s communication patterns, as well as the gender composition of their network, significantly predict their job placement level,” said Nitesh V. Chawla, co-author of the study, and a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Notre Dame. “The same factors–communication patterns and gender composition of a social network–have no significant effect for men landing high-ranking positions.”
The researchers also found that when women have powerful male connections, they may improve access to information about job search and negotiations, but it’s those female-dominated inner circles that really help women gain gender-specific information that can help them get ahead in the male-dominated job market.
In short, women helping women is still the best way to get ahead.