Women who communicate regularly with a female-dominated inner circle are more likely to attain high-ranking leadership positions, according to a new study by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study showed that more than 75 percent of high-ranking women maintained a female-dominated inner circle, or strong ties to two or three women whom they communicated with frequently within their network.
For men, the larger their network, regardless of gender makeup, the more likely they are to earn a high-ranking position. Unfortunately, when women have social networks that resemble their male counterparts', they are more likely to hold low-ranking positions.
For the study, researchers reviewed social and communication networks of more than 700 former graduate students from a top-ranked business school in the United States. Each student in the study had accepted leadership-level positions, which were normalized for industry and region-specific salaries. Researchers then compared three variables of each student's social network: network centrality, or the size of the social network; gender homophily, or the proportion of same-sex contacts; and communication equality, or the amount of strong versus weak network ties.
Women with a high network centrality and a female-dominated inner circle have an expected job placement level that is 2.5 times greater than women with low network centrality and a male-dominated inner circle. When it comes to attaining leadership positions, women are not likely to benefit from adding the best-connected person to their network. While those connections may improve access to public information important to job search and negotiations, female-dominated inner circles can help women gain gender-specific information that would be more important in a male-dominated job market.