How the power of networking can help women get ahead


The recent coverage of gender pay gaps at large firms casts an alarming light on the inequality between men and women in employment.

With three-quarters of organisations reporting that they pay males more than females, it’s clear that we are far from creating an equal playing field for everyone in the workplace.

Indeed, it’s not just the pay gap that paints a concerning picture for equality. The disproportionately low number of women in the most senior positions and, in some cases, in the workplace as a whole, suggests that female professionals are still facing barriers to success. But what is holding them back and how can we all help overcome these challenges?

The common problems

In many instances, the stereotype of female workers blocks progression, particularly the idea that they will take time out to have families and be unable or unwilling to return to work. We know that many professional women take career breaks, often due to care responsibilities, but in this modern world, family commitments affect us all and one group shouldn’t be penalised for taking time out while others see little or no impact.

However, research suggests that women returners are still struggling to get back in to the workplace and are taking demotions or pay cuts in order to better their chances of employment. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, mothers who return to work end up earning a third less than men. In fact, it’s so commonplace that a recent study by Women Returners found that over a third (36%) actually expect to be demoted when they return to work.

These figures suggest that not only are women returners facing bias in the re-hiring process, but they are also arguably less confident in their own credentials. No professional should undersell their abilities due to taking a career break for whatever reason. The fact remains that experience and maturity are invaluable skills that can be added to the list of personal attributes developed during a break, not taken away.

In terms of the prejudice facing many females, existing recruitment structures allow for unconscious bias simply due to the nature of the selection process. It’s all too easy for hirers to be swayed by a sub-conscious stereotype they don’t know they are influenced by. And with the trend for hirers recruiting in their own image, women facing an all-male interview panel are like to instantly be at a disadvantage.

This issue is then further exacerbated by the on-going low number of women in the candidate pool as the barriers mentioned above prevent some from putting themselves forward for positions. As research has shown, if a candidate pool consists of a majority of one particular gender or race, then the individual hired will be from that majority. The result is an imbalance in diverse representations that will only continue to spiral out of control unless action is taken soon. What we need to see in order to create a more level playing field is a complete overhaul of hiring processes.

Disrupting hiring through peer-to-peer recommendations

In my view, if we truly want to build a workforce that is reflective of society itself, we need to tap into networks. We are all so widely connected online that is now incredibly easy and simple to communicate and share information among professional groups.

If we harness this ability and use it to incentivise individuals to recommend others for positions we will eliminate many of the barriers for women returners – and indeed to diversity as a whole. With professionals putting others forward for a position they feel is perfect for them, we can help those struggling with low self-esteem by giving them the boost of a personal recommendation. There’s something hugely confidence-enhancing about someone who knows about your previous accomplishments personally vouching for you and putting you forward for a position that you might otherwise lack the confidence to go for.

And by tapping into the knowledge peers have gained from working with the individual rather than relying on the possibility of unbiased judging of a typed document, we can significantly reduce the chances of unconscious prejudice occurring during recruitment.

It’s clear to me that we need to shake up existing ideas behind hiring and diversity. If more professionals adopt the idea of peer-to-peer recruitment and demand it from employers, we can truly level the playing field for all and help everyone progress in their career, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or disability.

Juliet EcclestonAbout the author

Juliet Eccleston is Co-Founder of leading professional recommendation platform, AnyGood?

Following a career in programme development and management, entrepreneur Juliet Eccleston developed and launched AnyGood?, a platform for professionals to recommend other professionals for roles they believe they are suitable for. Much of the premise of this platform was to take a new approach to improving workplace diversity across the board. Juliet believes that the challenges of unconscious bias and the tendency for hirers to recruit in their own image means that true diversity in the workplace is yet to be achieved. However, by tapping into the networks of professionals and encouraging individuals to recommend others for roles they believe they’re suitable for, hirers will have access to a candidate pool that’s more representative of society.

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