To Land a Job, Women Need to Be Much Better Networkers Than Men, Study Says

That's according to an analysis of 4.5 million emails sent by the top MBAs in the country. 

Megan Cui

Getting a job isn’t only about what you know how to do, it’s also about who you know. But in a new study comparing men and women’s social network needs — when it comes to job placement — the importance of having the right social networks were found to be distinctly different within both groups. As to who requires a more diverse, multifunctional set of connections in order to get hired, men or women, well you can take one big ole guess.

A team led by Brian Uzzi of Kellogg Business School spent a year analyzing 4.5 million emails from 542 men and 186 women, all students from one of the country’s top MBA programs. The group, Uzzi tells Inverse, was a narrow band of high achievers who will be entering the workforce laterally, rather than working their way from the bottom up, and whose skill sets are indistinguishable except for the name on top of the resume. Their high level qualifications made them an ideal control group.

“I’ve always been interested in gender and job placement,” says Uzzi. “And a lot of that work is around the concept of a ‘leaky pipeline,’ which is this notion that at every level of authority that you go up, women drop out at higher and higher proportions than men.”

But particularly in the last 25 years, women have begun entering organizations in leadership positions, often out of graduate programs. And Uzzi was curious: What betters women’s job placement when they’re hired directly into managing roles?

Who you know matters a lot more for women job applicants, a new study finds. 

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It’s All About Who You Know

Using a statistical inference process developed by Uzzi nearly a decade ago, the research team used students’ emails to identify their social networks. Privacy concerns meant the actual email content remained locked, and the names anonymous. Instead, the team considered how often students sent emails to specific people, what time they sent them and how quickly they responded.

“What subset of those exchanges are the ones people would say are in their social networks, the people they go to and exchange particular information with?” says Uzzi.

"“”High placing women need access to public information, but they also need something else."

When it came to job placement, men just needed access to “public” information - who’s hiring, and when, and where, and for what. They didn’t even necessarily need a lot of connections, as long as their contacts were with people who themselves have a lot of connections - “hubs,” per the industry term. Women, on the other hand, were reliant on an entirely different set of social connections.

“High placing women need access to public information, but they also need something else: They need a network that gives them access to private info,” said Uzzi. “Info that has to do with being a woman in a man’s world. And the best source of that information are other women.”

Understanding not just who’s hiring, but who will expect women to shoulder additional expectations proved essential for the women in Uzzi’s study. The female students who experienced the highest amounts of success in the hiring market were bolstered by an inner circle of tightly connected women. Not just any women, either; Uzzi found that affinity groups, for example, can become echo chambers, with the same information continually being passed around. The ideal “inner circles” were a social patchwork, with each member’s larger network remaining relatively isolated from those of her peers.

The female students who modeled their networks on the traditionally male version, the one that relied exclusively on public information? Those students immediately fell to the bottom of the hiring pool.

Though their current study focused exclusively on gender, Uzzi says he hopes to conduct similar studies on social networks, job placement and ethnicity, but suspects the outcome will likely be similar: That to be a successful minority within an industry, the necessary work isn’t just in the classroom or in the office. There exists a different rule book entirely.

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