Networking to the top: sage advice, or a tad overblown?

Helen Twose
Networking to the top: sage advice, or a tad overblown?

Connections, mentors, and a touch of chutzpah are usually cited as key ingredients for women wanting to build a successful career.

But research has hosed down the benefits of networking for women after it compared the impact of business connections on stock picking and forecast accuracy among Wall Street analysts.

The results suggested the advice to “network your way to the top” is a “tad overblown” after analysis revealed well-connected men improved their recommendation accuracy more than their equally (or more) well-connected female colleagues.

The men’s connections also meant they were more likely to feature in Institutional Investor, a “major coup” says the Harvard Business Review, which tends to boost pay packets up to 3 times that of their analyst peers.

Unfortunately for women, their connections didn’t have the same impact.

SEE ALSO: How Kiwi women leaders got to the top

This and other research is debunking the effectiveness of women following the “male playbook,” says Harvard Business Review.

“These discrepancies began as soon as the analysts were hired, suggesting that men and women are set on different trajectories at the very outset of their careers, by factors outside of their control.”


Aspirations have changed, systems haven’t

Sandy Burgham

Sandy Burgham

Leadership coach and former executive Sandy Burgham says that it might make her sound like “a second wave feminist,” but women are always going to lag behind in a patriarchal system.

Burgham says while women’s aspirations have changed in the past 50 years, the structures on Wall Street and in many corporates hasn’t.

“Of course men are going will find it easier because they are round pegs going in to round holes.”

She says what the research isn’t looking at is the motivation for those connections and what women now want out of networking is often different to their male colleagues.

Burgham, a director of leadership development for the non-profit organisation New Zealand Global Women, says many women are not only interested in hearing about getting on to a board, but also want to know how to cobble together a successful career with keeping family life on track.

“I don’t see that conversation happening in men networking.”


A different interpretation

Cecilia Tarrant

Cecilia Tarrant

Cecilia Tarrant, a professional director with board positions at Fletcher Building and the Government Superannuation Fund, says HBR had an interesting take on the study results.

“I would draw, actually, a different conclusion from the study.

“My conclusion is not that women shouldn’t network; my conclusion is the question of how people are choosing to make use of their connections.

“It’s one thing to have your network, the question is then what use are you comfortable using that network for and what use do you make of that network?”

One of the results thrown up by the research into equity analysts was that women got better tips when they were dealing with companies run by women.

Tarrant, who as an executive-in-residence at the University of Auckland Business School chairs the Women's Mentoring Programme, says it shows women are often more comfortable approaching women in their network than they were making the same approaches to men in their network.

She says the research reinforces for her what is trying to be achieved with the business school programme in teaching young women how to build a network, the importance of networking, and to give them the confidence to use their networks in a way that is authentic.

Pull out quote Cecelia

“You can only be who you are, but what you need to do is to develop strategies that enable you to succeed in a world where men are dominant. So what we’re trying to do is to give them the confidence and help them develop strategies for success that will help them when they go into the workplace.”

Each of the 75 students, who are at least part-way through a business degree, is matched with an executive women who meets them through a mix of one-on-one sessions and all-in events.

“I think the most valuable thing for young women is to hear other people’s stories, and let’s be very clear about this, I think this [HBR] article really gives a lot of support for women mentoring women, but I do think that there is a place for men mentoring women as well.

“You can’t just have women mentors and we’re very clear to our students about that,” says Tarrant.

SEE ALSO: How Kiwi women leaders got to the top


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