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Hidden Obstacle to Women Networks

cartoon branches with computer/mobile apps - women's networking

The Historical Take on the Drawbacks of Women Networking

When it comes to the reasons why women are less adept at professional networking than men, the differences between the sexes’ priorities and preferences are often highlighted as the main barriers to women’s success. Recent articles[1] on why professional women are disadvantaged in their networking skills name a variety of culprits ranging from women:

  • Preferring smaller, more intimate connections than broader, more superficial relationships, to
  • Prioritizing their children and home life to the exclusion of after-work socializing, to
  • Avoiding awkward and potentially uncomfortable after-work get-togethers that may be sexually charged and/or juvenile behavior pits, to
  • Worrying about forging a potential mentor relationship with a male executive that feeds baseless office innuendo, to
  • Feeling intimidated with managing up the corporate ladder for their sole benefit.

How Social Media Platforms Affect Professional Networking Efficiency

These arguments may well be valid.  What is lacking is a discussion on the influence of networking through the digital social media landscape.  More and more people are relying on their digital social networks to connect, engage, research and seek-out personal and professional relationships that are pertinent and helpful to their careers.  Recent user statistics published by LinkedIn state that more women (71%) than men (62%) are actively engaged on social media platforms[2].  However, these numbers do not accurately capture which digital platforms are most used to support peer-to-peer professional networking.

Who Uses Which Social Media Platforms?

Digging deeper into the data, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest command large majorities of women as their users, 62%, 58%, 58%, and 85%, respectively[3].  These social media networks are just that, social in nature and experiential in use. Arguably, these social media sites are valuable even critical tools that can support both personal and corporate brand building.  Fundamentally though, they are not professional networking vehicles.  Interestingly, Google+ and LinkedIn are utilized in the majority by men, 64% and 54% respectively.  The skew towards men on these more professionally-minded social media sites is notable.

The Deal-eo on Google+ and LinkedIn:  Professionally-minded Users

We know that with Google+, personal contacts are gathered from the sprinkled seeds of interactions one has had on the internet, through one’s email account and messenger lists[4].  That list of personal/professional contacts grows as one engages in or looks for other individuals with whom to have a digital conversation.

LinkedIn is a more straight-forward, professional networking site.  One must become a member by providing some basic personal information including one’s name, email address, zip code where one lives, company one works for, job title and industry focus.  Once a new member is verified through a valid email address, the goal of the LinkedIn network is to connect with friends, new and old colleagues, professional persons of interest, industry leaders and the like.  LinkedIn’s search menu is top and center of the web page and to look for a professional contact, one generally inputs a first and last name of a desired individual.  This simple query can sometimes be enhanced if you know the company a person works for or the name of their alma mater.  More targeted results can accrue to more easily and accurately find a desired contact.

How a Social Platform Can Hide a Network

What does any of this have to do with women’s ability to network and their success in doing so?  A whole heck of a lot and the reason is not obvious at first blush.  To this day, 80% of American women who are married, have changed their last name to that of their husband’s[5]. There are nearly 61 million married couples in the U.S.[6]  Going strictly by the numbers, more than 48.5 million women took a new last name when they married.  Most never again use or reference their maiden name in a professional setting although hyphenated names have recently become de rigueur.  Less often, a professional woman will replace her given middle name with her maiden one.  Both of these compromises by women to hold onto their last name in some form is admirable and makes searching for them on social media platforms to connect professionally, all the easier.

Disappearing Professional Women

I know.  I recently made a huge effort to reconnect with old classmates from my undergraduate institution and my business school alma mater.  And I did not make a half-hearted attempt at connecting with old friends who had long ago drifted away.  I whipped out my class ‘face book’ directories from both institutions and flipped page by page to each portrait image of every matriculated student in my respective classes.  From there, I knew where they grew up, what undergraduate institutions they attended, at which corporate institutions they had worked, as well as obviously, their first and last names.  That is to say, I had a lot of good search ammunition to effectively find the individuals I wanted to find and connect with professionally.  Guess what?  I failed miserably trying to find most of the women I knew 20 years ago.  The ones I did find had either kept their maiden names or had a hyphenated last name.  I got lucky – truly lucky – in finding a handful of other women who did in fact acquire the last name of their husband by sheer force of multiple search term combinations entered and always leading with the undergraduate institution they attended.  That said, my search-to-find professional women in my network was not fruitful.  In comparison to the men I queried – all of whom were easily found by my first entered search query – the women I found was a dismal 1 to 2 ratio to men.

Those numbers make a big difference in the breadth, depth, and quality of one’s network.  Professionally-minded individuals usually advance in their careers.  Most add degrees to their name with corresponding industry-specific accolades.  Wherever a woman might find herself when she first meets someone she would like to stay connected with, those personal connections often become more valuable professionally the longer and more advanced she becomes in her career.  If professional women “disappear” to their built-in network – to both women and men alike –  starting in their mid-to-late 20’s through their middle 30’s, their network to support career advancement is seriously and permanently compromised, something that is a zero concern or reality for men.

Solutions to Invisible Women Who Work

What is the solution?  One would be to have digital social platforms require the input of a woman’s maiden name and then adjust their search query algorithm to include the data when pulling potential match profiles.  A second solution (and perhaps a more unrealistic one given the trend over the last 50 years) is to quit the practice in the U.S. of women changing their maiden names.  Instead, have them opt for keeping their original name or for a hyphenated blend.  What is important is we start factoring this systemic and self-imposed professional networking challenge into the broader discussion of what women can do to network as effectively as their male counterparts.

[1] Bartz, Carol and Lambert, Lisa.  (2014, November 12).  Why women should do less and network more. Fortune.  Nagel, Marilyn.  (2015, October 7).  Women Network Differently Than Men And It Hinders Our Advancement. HuffPost.  Rappaport, Liz.  (2015, October 1).  Networking Isn’t Easy for Women, but It Is Crucial.  The Wall Street Journal. 

[2] Grant, Stefanie. (2017, January 27).  Men vs. Women Social Media Usage.  LinkedIn. 

[3] Ibid. Men users are the majority (54%) on the YouTube platform.

[4] Holly, Russell. (2015, March 9).  What is Google+, and who actually uses it?  Androidcentral. 

[5] McDermott, John.  (2016, September 12).  Why So Few Women Keep Their Maiden Names.  Mel.  Retrieved from https://melmagazine.com/why-so-few-women-keep-their-maiden-names-e371e5950ec6

[6] Statista. (2018).  Number of married couples in the United States from 1960 to 2017 (in millions).  Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/183663/number-of-married-couples-in-the-us/

Contact Kate Gaertner today to see what Triple Win Advisory can do to help your business and industry increase sustainability to result in a “triple win” for company profit and long-term competitive advantage, societal well-being, and successful environmental pollution mitigation.

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