Why Women Still Benefit From Women’s Networking Groups

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Why Women Still Benefit From Women’s Networking Groups

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Why is women-only networking still a thing?

According to a 2019 study

Women who had both a strong central network and a strong women-specific network were 2.5 times more likely to gain job placement at the leadership level than women who did not.

The study authors hypothesize that having access to women’s groups in addition to traditional networking spaces helps them better navigate opportunities while exchanging advice specific to the unique challenges women face in the workplace.

As one of the study authors writes

“Because women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.

While men had inner circles in their networks too – we found that the gender composition of males’ inner circles was not related to job placement.”

Unlike what the criticism of these groups suggest, these affinity groups or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) don’t exist for the purpose of exclusion. Instead they are designed to support historically underrepresented, disenfranchised and marginalized employees in the workplace.

If you are a woman, person of color, or identify as LGBTQIA or nonbinary, and you were invited to join a slack channel or listserv or meetup dedicated to the unique concerns that people who share your identity face at your job, it may have felt like a welcome change and a step in the right direction. And the data suggest, the impact can be meaningful.

In a recent installment of Ambitions Diaries, I spoke with Michelle, a 27-year-old market research professional who told me that her employer offered a male hire $8,000 more than her salary for a role that she created. After her employer failed to address the inequity with Michelle, she now tells the women she interviews and new hires exactly what she makes.

Affinity groups can offer a safe space to share information like this that might not feel welcome or heard in traditional networking circles, or elsewhere in the workplace.

For example, women dealing with sexism or harassment at their jobs, may not only feel uncomfortable bringing up these issues in traditional settings, but speaking up in those environments can also lead to backlash and have negative consequences for their careers.

Conversations about workplace culture, negotiation strategies, and cultivating relationships with colleagues, can also just look different for those who identify outside of the straight, white, able-bodied, cis-male norms workplaces have been built around.

In my conversation with Darra, for example, an attorney who was admonished for negotiating a job offer, she said, “I spoke about my dad and my fiancé giving me this [negotiation] advice that really works for them in their industry, for their gender [….] It’s all “just business”. And “be a straight shooter,” “be direct”, “be assertive” – these very general platitudes that work really well for a lot of people, but not necessarily all people.[…] The two of them have taught me ways to advocate for myself, but the outcome has not been the same.

They’re met with this, “Of course, let’s see what we can do.” And I think for women it’s more, “Well, we were really disappointed to hear you’re not happy with the offer we’ve provided.” It’s just a different experience and it’s pretty clear. I absolutely did not anticipate that.

I thought, “I’m doing what the men do, so I should get the same response.” And in fact, it’s, it’s been like, “Oh my goodness, you’re asking for so much,” or, “Shouldn’t you be happy with this?” […] I think sharing should help normalize the variety of outcomes that could happen while we’re working to fix those outcomes to not happen.”

An affinity group can give women and other underrepresented identities space to be heard, and to understand their options, instead of immediately planning an exit strategy.

The data also show that women are more likely to succeed when backed by other women, are more likely to speak up and less likely to be interrupted in women-only spaces, and are more likely to get paid more at work when surrounded by other women.

So while broad, open and diverse professional networks are important for all professionals, and we should continue to work toward making those spaces more equitable across all identities, it’s clear that affinity groups offer essential additional support to professionals whose identities have been historically (and continually) marginalized in the workplace.

To join us for more conversations like this one by subscribe to “Too Ambitious”.

More like this…

What To Say When Your Boss Thinks You Have An Inclusive Workplace (But You Don’t)

What to Say When You Hear, “Women Aren’t In Leadership Roles Because They Opt Out”

How Your Coworker’s Bad Behavior Can Hurt Your Career

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