Despite the constant talk about equality, statistics show that women still remain vastly underrepresented in top roles across the business world.
Figures from 2017 showed that in the UK, female professionals held only 12 per cent of jobs paying £150,000 or more. It’s clear that traditional routes to progression are preventing a lot of women from attaining their goals. However, by utilising the power of personal networks, I believe women can further their career and bypass the obstacles put in their way. This is something I’ve learnt from my own experience in over 20 years as a programme director. When hiring professionals for the delivery of large scale projects, my experience of the traditional hiring process was predominantly negative. It was only until I actively turned to my network for hiring that I found my best employees. Secondly, and more recently, I have witnessed first-hand just how well it works by starting my own business which empowers people to capitalise from their own networks.
Power of networks
The power of networks is huge and constantly increasing. This can be demonstrated by the recent rise in the use of peer-to-peer recommendations, something that I would attribute to a lack of trust in traditional sources of information, and to the ease at which we can now all stay connected. In early 2018, the Harvard Business Review reported a survey in which fewer than half of participants said they could trust businesses, the media, and government and non-government organisations – including charities. On the other hand, 60 per cent of respondents agreed that you can believe ‘a person like yourself’. What this indicates is that people are far more likely to believe peer appraisals than those with a vested interest. For this reason, recommendations and reviews, such as those on TripAdvisor, and Glassdoor have become a critical way for individuals to decide whether to trust a business, and the star ratings on apps like Airbnb and Uber have become so crucial in individual’s decision making
The same holds true for people
Clearly people are putting more stock into the opinions of others in their networks than ever before. For this same reason, I believe women should take greater advantage of their wider personal networks and use them for career advancement. By calling on those who most intimately know your professional capabilities, this endorsement can help remove any potential bias, allowing you to be promoted or hired based on your own merit alone.
Perhaps more importantly, your network has the potential to open up greater opportunities than those you are actively pursuing yourself. In our own company research, we found an overwhelming 95 per cent of people stated that they would be more likely to apply for a role if it was recommended to them by a peer rather than a recruiter. Recommendations made in this way are not only more personal and engender the trust that is so important for women to be given the chance to progress their careers, but also encourage individuals to go for positions they may have deemed beyond their reach.
Why is networking so important
With the potential power of personal networks so easy to demonstrate, this makes actually creating those networks even more significant. The evidence showing the importance of networking is extensive, and certain studies claim that women who avoid this are actively damaging their careers. A study undertaken by the AVTAR Group revealed that women usually begin networking at the age of 42, while men start as early as 17. Another study from the University of Notre Dame shows that more than 75 per cent of women in high ranking positions have a female-dominated inner circle, or strong ties to a few women within their network who they are in frequent contact with. However, while I encourage traditional networking, there are many different approaches to it which are also suitable, even for those who don’t feel they are outgoing enough to do so. Actively reconnecting with your existing network wherever possible is incredibly powerful because you already have a relationship in place. This can be done in a number of ways, be it through picking up the phone, email, or even through social media. Other interesting approaches are ‘career drafting’, asking someone you admire if you can help with any overflow they have. Finding a professional one or two steps ahead in your industry and letting them know you’re prepared to do this is an extremely powerful method of creating connections that could later help you advance your career.
Nothing holding you back
Unfortunately, the barriers to women progressing their career are numerous. There is much evidence to show that men are judged to a more lenient standard than women, and that gender stereotypes and unconscious bias play large roles in hiring decisions. Furthermore, one McKinsey study found that women tend to undervalue their contributions at work, with 70% of female respondents rating their performance as equivalent to their co-workers, while 70 per cent of men rated themselves higher than their co-workers. This makes tapping into the power of networks even more important, as many women will have highly vocal advocates capable of championing them in a way they may not do themselves. I am firmly of the belief that barriers can be overcome through actively networking, and that despite the challenges, women have more opportunities to network than ever. By building your own strategic network of professional peers and using this network to your advantage, the sky is the limit.