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Networks – those all-important relationships developed in business settings – have long been a subject of study. But recently, interest has developed in the different ways men and women set about networking.
In “Ms. Trust: Gender, Networks and Trust – Implications for Management and Education”, published in the Journal of the Academy of Management Learning and Education, Mike Page, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at Bentley University, and his collaborator, Dr. Dianne Bevelander of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, analyze networking patterns and dynamics among men and women MBA students. Their research focuses on how personal and professional networks are built and maintained between and among genders.
Page and Bevelander have founded their research on similar work done beginning in the 1980s on gender and networking in the workplace. The authors argue that their work is critical because while women now are well represented in the workforce, they remain underrepresented in upper management, executive and boardroom ranks. They explore how networking might help explain this deficiency. Organizations have become “flatter” in recent decades, they suggest, which has only enhanced the importance of networks: “The existence of good networks within an organization confers numerous advantages on the organization as a whole and on the individuals who make up the networks. Benefits … range from being able to get a task completed to gaining access to a new job.”
The researchers surveyed two groups of male and female international MBA students at two points in their programs about their networking behavior. They found four consistent patterns:
- Women students display a greater tendency toward same-gender networking in social situations.
- Women also tend to network with other women while working on specific tasks.
- However, women students network more with men when building networks to support them in managing project or business risk.
- Finally, women students display less network trust than men as they move up the hierarchy of trust from task networks to social networks to project risk networks. Their networks tend to become sparser at a faster rate.
Page and Bevelander state that these conclusions are consistent with what similar research has found in corporate settings over the last 30 years. The implications for women in the workplace, even those who are just preparing for their careers, are clear: gender differences in networking behavior put women at a significant disadvantage in career progression. Page and Bevelander argue that the disparities between the sexes have important implications for academic programs and corporate human resources functions and further “suggest that the topic deserves far more attention in graduate management education.” Specific implications for management education that they propose include: improving course sequencing and introducing networking theory and practice earlier into programs; greater inclusion of female role models as mainstream contributors and not just for the opportunity to demonstrate the challenges faced by women in the workplace; team and small group construction that avoids marginalizing women when they make up a smaller percentage of the class; and removing implicit biases from marketing and recruitment collateral.
It is especially fitting that this work has been undertaken in part by the chief academic officer of Bentley University. Bentley has just launched an innovative, new MBA program that has attracted students from all over the world. The program distinctively blends business study with elements of the arts and sciences and could help address the issues the article so clearly defines. Bentley is also the home of the Center for Women and Business, the goal of which is to become the preeminent source of research and programming on women’s career issues.