MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for:What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? is written by Sharon Ritchey, chief operating officer at AXA U.S.
It’s no secret that when preparing for your next career move, it helps to network as much as possible. However, women tend to have more limited professional networks than men. This may be because networking isn’t just about being connected — it’s actually more about whom you’re connecting with. From my experience, women and men tend to mainly network with their own genders. However, a man’s mostly male network may include other men who occupy higher positions. Because men hold the majority of jobs in senior management, they are more likely to hear about jobs at the senior levels — and then pass these tips along to their mostly male networks. This obviously works against women, because men tend to hear earlier and more often about upper-level job leads. When women hear about these job leads, it’s generally only after they have reached and passed several men. You can’t be considered for a job you don’t hear about.
The good news is that women can build more effective networks and, in my own experience, are better networkers than men. Women build larger networks, but the downside is that the people in their networks tend to occupy lower level jobs compared to a man’s network. The only way to fix this issue is by encouraging women to add more men, and especially men at higher management levels to their mostly female networks and vice versa. This means women need to get out of the comfort zone and make widely known their interest and competencies. I’m not implying that there’s anything conspiratorial or consciously discriminatory on the part of men, but rather consciously or unconsciously, they generally pass leads or referrals to people already in their network.
In fact, sometimes, these decisions are based on stereotypes that women have particular preferences regarding job qualifications. Here’s an example. Let’s say a man hears about a job that requires extensive traveling. He might not think of passing this lead to a woman who has children because of his reliance on the stereotype that women with children prefer to not travel as much. What he might not know is that the woman has a spouse at home or childcare provisions that would accommodate travel. This is why women need to make their interests, preferences, and competencies known to a wide network. Additionally, women tend to follow “rules,” such as job qualification criteria more than men do, especially when trying to decide whether or not to apply for a job. Yet another reason why women should not overestimate the importance of qualifications and underestimate the importance of networking and advocacy for oneself.