CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — Women who communicate regularly with a female-dominated inner circle are more likely to attain high-ranking leadership positions, according to a study of Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame published on Tuesday.
For the study, the 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 number of strong versus weak network ties.
Women with a high network centrality and a female-dominated inner circle have an expected job placement level 2.5 times greater than women with low network centrality and a male-dominated inner circle. In addition, women are not likely to benefit from adding the best-connected person to their network.
While those connections might improve access to public information important to job search and negotiations, female-dominated inner circles can help women gain gender-specific information that is more important in a male-dominated job market.
The study also showed that more than 75 percent of high-ranking women maintained a female-dominated inner circle or strong ties to two or three women with whom they communicated frequently.
“In this context, such an inner circle can provide trustworthy, gender-relevant information about job cultures and social support, which are very important to women in male-dominated settings,” said Yang Yang, a research assistant professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
The study is published Jan. 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.