Here is an excerpt from an article written by Brian Uzzi for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
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We know that social networks are critical to professional advancement. We also know that men are more likely to rise to leadership positions.
This makes one wonder: Is there a difference between the networks of successful male and female leaders?
Recent research I conducted with collaborators Yang Yang and Nitesh V. Chawla suggests there is. We studied what types of networks helped new male and female MBAs land executive leadership positions. We found that men benefit not so much from size of network but from being central in the MBA student network—or connected to multiple “hubs”, or people who have a lot of contacts across different groups of students.
Women benefited in terms of post-MBA job placement from being central in the network too; but to achieve the executive positions with the highest levels of authority and pay they also had to have an inner circle of close female contacts, despite having similar qualifications to men including education and work experience.
Why the difference?
Being central gives male or female students quick access to varied job market information—such as who’s hiring, what salaries are offered at different firms, how long it takes to get promoted, how to optimize their resumes—that is public but tends to be scattered widely among students in the class. Being central puts dispersed information in ready reach.
However, because women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies. While men had inner circles in their networks too – contacts that they communicated with most – we found that the gender composition of males’ inner circles was not related to job placement.
The Power of Direct Placement
Winning placement into executive leadership positions directly out of graduate school benefits men and women alike. Early-career women, especially, can use this route to sidestep longstanding labor-market challenges, including stereotyping and discrimination, which result in lower pay, lesser advancement opportunities, and a higher rate of dropping out of the labor market altogether.
But little is known about the links between graduate school and placement into these positions. We wanted to understand whether one’s network enables MBAs to find the right opportunities, setting the stage for successful careers.
We inferred each student’s social network using an algorithm that estimates whether the statistical pattern of email exchanges between two people indicates that they are part of the same social network. For example, two students who communicate by email are estimated to be part of the same network only if their email exchanges are significantly different than expected by chance. We estimated the average size of students’ networks to be approximately 12-18 students, which is consistent with paper and pencil self-report network surveys.
We gauged how central a given student was in the school-wide network using a measured called “pagerank centrality”. Pagerank centraility is interesting because it is not about having a big “Rolodex” of contracts, but rather measures the number of contacts of your contacts. For example, a student who has a small network can have high pagerank centrality if his or her contacts have many contacts of their own. Also for each student, we computed the number of same-sex contacts in their network that was greater than expected given the size of their network and the proportion of women and men students in the class. The inner circle in a student’s network was defined as the top 2-4 contacts who sent and received statistically more email communications than the other contacts in the same network.
One benefit of studying graduate students is that, as a cohort, men and women are similar on measures of success: test scores, undergraduate-school quality, work experience, and others. So groups of men and women in this sample should be similar in talent and training for research-based comparisons.
To connect features of social networks at school to job placement success, we analyzed 4.5 million anonymized email correspondences among a subset of all 728 MBA graduates (74.5% men, 25.5% women) in the classes of 2006 and 2007 at a top U.S. business school. We measured job placement success by the level of authority and pay each graduate achieved after school.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Brian Uzzi is the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the codirector of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO).