LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company found in their major new study-- with almost 30,000 employees across 118 companies that women's odds of advancement are 15% lower than men's.
One reason the study cites is that Women and men have very different networks. The study explains "Women and men agree that sponsorship is vital to success and advancement, with two-thirds describing it as "very" or "extremely" important. Yet they do not have the same type of professional networks, which may result in different levels of support. "
After working with over 3,000 executive women, on the topic of Building Intentional Networks, and co-founding a technology company (NQuotient.com) to support women in being strategic about building and leveraging their network for career success, I'd not only agree with this as a contributing factor but like to expound on a few of the reasons why women's networks are different then men's.
Women in general tend to have smaller networks of deeper relationships, choosing to only have people in their network who share their value system as compared to men who see their network as a way to get ahead so are less concerned with a shared value system and more interested in what the relationship can yield. More women are joining professional women's organizations because they want to have both meaningful relationships with other professional women who share their values and can also support them in career growth. But women still need sponsor/advocates within their organizations to climb those corporate ladders and there are still issues that make it keep it from being a level playing field.
Women don't want to attend events after work, that are deemed networking events because women want to get home to be with their families particularly since women continue to have responsibility for the majority of family (child and elder) care. Professional services women tell me that they are told to attend networking events to build business if they want to make partner - but women don't build their networks by attending events and passing around cards because that feels inauthentic, and they want to do strategic networking during their workday (even if their day is long.)
Often at work off-sites or on business travel there is a great opportunity to network after the day's meetings. The group goes out to dinner and drinks. Many women have found this can be awkward, because the men in the group (especially when a male dominated group) drink heavily and often behavior starts to include frat house inappropriate conversation. There have also been many situations where men make unwelcome advances and think that because it is not taking place at work, it is OK to do. I had this happen early in my career and frankly had to be rescued from the dance-floor at a work sponsored charity benefit where my boss was totally inappropriate and drunk. Since that early experience, I removed myself from those social settings but that resulted in feedback that I was standoffish. As a woman, I had to learn to build relationships with key influencers and sponsors during work so that I built a reputation as being friendly even though I still did not hang out at the bar.
Women lose out on opportunities for building their network in a social setting because they don't want to deal with potentially bad behaviors; men have even told some women team members that it is more fun when they are not traveling with them. While we women do have a sense of humor, and love to have fun, we are not comfortable playing "who would you sleep with" games with semi-drunk business leaders and colleagues, so we don't get to leverage these opportunities for networking while on business travel or at leadership off-sites.
Similarly, women have said that when they approach men to be sponsors, or advocates the relationship can be viewed as something more then just a professional one and they become the subject of gossip. Women have been burned this way and their relationships questioned, so they prefer to just work hard at their jobs and keep to themselves so as not to attract gossip, or be told they got the job because of something other then merit.
Lastly, women continue to prove themselves over and over again at work (Joan Williams, What works for Women at Work,) so they relegate networking to the back burner. They spend their time showing that they are committed to work by taking on more tasks, fixing problems others don't want, staying late and coming in early. They report that they don't have time to devote to their network because they get bogged down in task work.
One of the reasons I co-founded NQuotient is I was looking for a way to make networking easier for women to do within their workday, and keep it top of mind. I don't think we can approach it in the same ways men do, although we can learn some lessons from the about being more strategic and obtaining sponsorship at senior levels. But we have to do it in ways that are authentic, and through meaningful connections that are natural to women.