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No, you don’t need to learn golf to advance. Chief’s study proves women leaders successfully network off the range

July 30, 2023
Diversity & Inclusion

As a corporate attorney with young kids, Chief Member Randi Mason discovered early on that in order to grow in her career she had to be more intentional about forming professional relationships.

“The women I was friends with were all professionals and were so eager to help each other out with just about every facet of our lives,” says Mason, who is Partner & Co-Chair of the Corporate Department at Morrison Cohen LLP. “If you needed a doctor, or you needed help with your children, or you needed someone to walk your dog, people were vocal about helping out. But, they were not talking about their careers. The only time they talked about work was when they were talking about their work-life balance and how they were handling the juggle.”

But for the husbands, Mason says, “they would get together for dinner and talk about work and the next thing you know they were doing a deal together.”

“That’s when I realized that I had to do something different and really step outside my comfort zone,” she says. “So I started to put myself in situations where I was likely to meet other women who were eager about networking and that often meant becoming part of a more formal organization like Chief.”

While it’s common knowledge that networking is important for success, what’s not as common is research about how women specifically network — and to positive results. We’ve heard ad nauseum about men networking on the golf course and the returns they’ve seen. One study found that more than 70% of Fortune 1000 CEOs, who are mostly White men, said they’ve done business with someone they met on the golf course. Additionally, 80% of Fortune 500 executives said golf has helped their careers. If 77% of golfers in the United States are men, then where is the research on women and the many different ways in which they build connections to grow in their careers? Ignoring the “grass ceiling” they face contributes to the gender gap in leadership.

With a lack of research specifically looking at women’s networking habits versus comparing them against men’s, Chief commissioned intelligence firm Morning Consult to explore whether networking does, in fact, drive career advancement for women leaders and exactly how they achieve it if not on the range. In our survey of 751 women at and above management level in the United States, we found that networking not only played a pivotal role in helping women achieve nearly every career milestone — from securing a board seat to breaking into the C-Suite — but it also drove broader operational and revenue benefits for the organization.

Unlike previous studies on this subject, Chief’s survey did not pit women against men nor ask about long-held ideologies of what constitutes ‘networking’ (i.e. hitting a few rounds at the golf course). But rather, our study looked at the networking tools and habits that women leaders have had the most success with and how these connections helped to shape successful career and business outcomes. For women who have been historically underrepresented in leadership due to bias and systemic barriers, our study found that networking is extraordinarily critical to their careers and it’s imperative that companies place a greater emphasis on facilitating these connections.

To read the full report on how women leverage connections to achieve power and drive business success, click here.

How Women Use Networking to Achieve Power for Themselves — and Their Company
It’s no secret that networking is a key, if not the most important, ingredient to career growth. What this study finds, however, is exactly quantifying the impact it has on women’s achievements.

In fact, our study shows that women aren’t just capable networkers, but confident. More than 90% of women leaders say they’re satisfied with their network’s ability to support their career needs and goals. Additionally, more than 80% of women at and above management level said that intentional forums of networking, like networking events and professional networking groups, helped them to achieve the career goal of joining a board (90%), breaking into the C-Suite (84%), or accepting a new job with better pay (81%).

When broken down by seniority level, C-Suite and VP women are more than twice as likely as managers and directors (63% vs. 29%) to report strong satisfaction with the support they receive from their networks, which are also more diverse and powerful. This is likely due to two critical behavioral differences in how executives versus mid-managers network. Executives are more likely to build connections through conferences, events, and cross-industry professional networking groups. Whereas managers and directors are more likely to develop their networks through past and current colleagues alone. According to our survey, senior executives are 18 percentage points more likely (62%) than managers and directors (44%) to engage with their networks at least weekly, with about one in three engaging with their networks daily.

“Carla Harris talks a lot about relationship currency and how there are no diminishing returns when you’re in an organization building relationships and getting sponsors and mentors,” says Chief Member Renee Hastick-Motes, VP External Affairs and President of St. John’s ICARE Foundation. Throughout her career, Hastick-Motes says she’s seen the ROI on networking and how it can lead to new jobs and opportunities that she wasn’t aware of. “I can think of one job in particular that I didn’t even apply for. I was referred. And the person came to me saying, ‘Hey, I heard someone you know talk about you in this space and I want to talk to you about an opportunity that we have,’” Hastick-Motes explains. “At my career level right now, those are the types of conversations that are taking place where people are reaching out to me because of the relationships I’ve built throughout the years.”

In addition to using networking to drive personal achievements, Chief’s study found that women leaders also use it to solve operational challenges and drive greater business outcomes — something that is especially critical now during lean economic times. Currently, 42% of women leaders are working with insufficient staffing, 34% have sought to improve team and business performance, and 31% aim to fix workplace inefficiencies. Networking, our study found, is key to helping women navigate these challenges with more than 70% of women leaders saying they’ve used networking to save money for their team or organization, find efficiencies, and win new business.

How Networking Satisfaction Varies for Intersectional Women
People with intersecting identities — such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation — often face additional barriers when it comes to building career relationships. But the study finds that for some women of color, their intersectional identity may be an advantage.

According to the report, women of color have higher rates of networking satisfaction and confidence, and they are more likely than White respondents to have diverse, powerful networks that extend beyond current and former employer connections. And, women of color attribute career and business successes to networking at a higher rate than White women. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean networking is “easier” for women of color. But it makes sense that many intersectional individuals take a more purposeful approach to networking and building relationships considering the consistent systemic barriers they face due to their race.

“Women of color are already marginalized,” says Hastick-Motes. “We’re already looked at as the minority and we don’t have the same access as other people. So being part of a networking group or a sisterhood is extremely important because it helps us to build that net.”

On the contrary, queer women leaders — those who identify as gay/lesbian, bisexual, queer, asexual, or other than heterosexual/straight — are almost twice as likely to say they are dissatisfied with their ability to build new network connections compared to heterosexual/straight women. When asked what is missing from their current networks and networking resources, the number-one response was a professional “inner circle,” defined as a tight-knit group of trusted contacts. Given how LGBTQIA+ individuals make up less than 2% of management positions, it is likely that queer women find it especially challenging to cultivate an inner circle with current and former employees.

How Employers Can Better Support Women’s Networking and Mentorship Needs
A majority (53%) of women leaders are less than fully satisfied with the networking support they receive from their companies. And more than a quarter of women at manager-level and above (28%) want more employer-sponsored networking events.

After the rise of hybrid work from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that women leaders want both in-person and online opportunities to help further success for themselves and their employer. In-person networking is at the top of women leaders’ wishlists, with nearly one in three wanting more of it. While one in four women at manager-level and above want more virtual networking events.

Currently, according to Chief’s study, women leaders rely heavily on free, off-the-clock networking tools like social media and texting. However, these tools are not in the top five networking tools that have been ranked most valuable by respondents.

In addition to more employer-sponsored networking support, women leaders also want more mentorship support from their companies. Just 32% of women leaders surveyed by Chief have a mentor, and they’ve reaped significant career achievements because of it. According to our research, 42% of women leaders who reached the C-Suite reported having a mentor, compared to 26% of those without a mentor being in the C-Suite.

“Every company should encourage a mentor and mentee system and give people who want to advance their careers an opportunity to connect within the company,” says one surveyed respondent.

It’s important to note that while mentorship is valuable for any professional, what women really need to get ahead at work are sponsors who have the influence and authority needed to advocate for their protégés, particularly behind closed doors.

As former Chief speaker Carla Harris puts it, “your hard work — and that investment in just work — will not complete your success equation.” Rather, women leaders need to network and build solid relationships that snowball into mentorship and sponsorship opportunities. And, they need employer support to do this successfully.

For employers looking to better help women by providing networking opportunities, Chief created the below action guide.

  1. Position networking as a tool for problem solving and career development. At minimum, employers should provide permission and encouragement for networking. Actively encourage employees to tap into their networks to solve challenges and grow their careers. If networking is taboo or only allowed off-the-clock, employees will be less likely to use it to benefit their teams and organizations.
  2. Provide diverse networking opportunities. Organizations should aim for a balanced portfolio that includes a range of in-person, virtual, internal, external, one-on-one, and one-to-many networking opportunities. It is wise to invest more in particularly impactful and sought-after approaches, but remember that there is no one-size-fits-all networking enabler.
  3. Help employees expand their networks beyond your organization. Even in the largest organizations, employees cannot effectively network without external connections. The clearest way to enable this is to provide funding for employees to participate in conferences, professional associations, and networking groups. But there are also options for those with tight budgets. There is a wealth of networking events, professional workshops, and mentoring platforms that are available at no cost. Employers simply need to provide time and permission for employees to use them.

To read the full report on how women leverage connections to achieve power and drive business success, click here.

By Courtney Connley


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