Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Are There "Good 'Ole Girl" Clubs For Professional Women?

For women it's "what you know" versus "who you know"...

The opposite is true for men. No - that's not an April fool's joke.

Building social networks is easier than ever these days given all of the technologies and platforms that we have available. However, cracking the code of strong, responsive, and timeless support systems is tough. Always has been - especially for women. 

Just ask the "good ole' boys"...

Building social capital is not as simple as connecting via social profiles, liking pages, or going out of your way to help others at work, at home, or in your community. Strategy and persistent effort are required. This is the art of networking and it causes problems for professional women

That's not too surprising - or is it?


A new study suggests that career advancement for women isn't dependent on social connections in the way it is for men.

Instead, professional success for women is dependent on "documentable and measurable competence" or basically, a proven track record

Vivian Giang, Fast Company [i]


The new study completed by INSEAD evaluated the impact of connections (social capital) and performance (human capital) on career outcomes for men and women on Wall Street. Even though women in the study were slightly more connected through Ivy League institutions (quantity), men were rewarded more often through their connections (quality).

I've aligned the gender dichotomy with quantity versus quality for the sake of simplicity, but there are many other significant factors at work. The bottom line in the research and in practice is that women and men are virtually always weighted differently even if we start out on equal footing. This scenario repeats itself across our life span.


Question #1: Can "good 'ole girl" clubs for professional women help to counteract inherent gender imbalances?

We've all heard about cigar-filled back rooms, closed board rooms, or secret societies that identify and protect chosen ones who are selected to help advance a groups' position. These types of groups may exist, but the results that they bring into the world can be sketchy

Perhaps this kind of covert protection is required in order to break the gender gridlock that's been in play for generations. Though I'm not a "by any means necessary" women's advocate, I believe that unconventional methods like frequent and widespread Board Room Bootcamps may be needed in order to rebalance the equation.

This brings to mind another question...


Question #2: What can professional women do differently to change social capital dynamics going forward?

Here are three solutions:

  • Step 1 - Test your connections
  • Step 2 - Develop a social capital reallocation strategy
  • Step 3 - Get LinkedIn!


Step 1 - Test Your Connections

According to Forbes, if you have fewer than 25 people that you can call on who can help you get results at any given time then your network is too small - or you're not engaged frequently enough. 

How do you test your connections? Ask yourself these questions:

  • How many people can you call on for genuine assistance when you're interested in a business or job opportunity?
  • Who can you call on and what kind of power or influence do they have when you need to make direct contact with influencers or decision-makers?
  • When was the last time you attended a high-powered networking event that included politicians, educators, community leaders, business leaders, colleagues, or peers from various industries?
  • What is your network churn rate or how frequently do members of your network move on? 

The good news is that social networks and connections are renewable resources. Expect that there will be churn and develop a plan to counteract it. Sociologists have found that the 'seven year itch' applies to social networks as well as friendships. 

In a survey of over 1000 men and women between 18 and 65, the size of the social network remained fairly stable after seven years, but the contents of the network changed. Only 30% of the original participants were still around no matter how close they had been in previous years.

Nurture your relationships and connections if you value them.


Step 2 - Develop a Social Capital Reallocation Strategy

We have to be prudent about where we spend our valuable resources such as our time, our talent, and our treasures (heard that before?!). It's important to have a well-defined strategy for building, investing in, and maintaining social capital in light of what we know about how women are impacted in professional settings.

A few years ago I read a McKinsey study about resource reallocation which examined 1600 companies over 15 years. Results showed companies that adopted annual resource reallocation strategies reaped on average 30% to 40% greater shareholder returns than companies that didn't. 

For some reason the study came to mind when I was examining this topic. I suppose it might have something to do with making the most of our limited resources - time, talent, and treasure. The approach and terminology from the study fit well so I leveraged them in the "Social Capital Reallocation Strategy" summary below.

At least once per year commit to focused clean-up to seed, nurture, prune, and harvest your way to greater social capital and stronger networks that will serve you well into the future. The value of your social capital can be measured by how many prompt responses or effective results you get when you call or place a demand on your network.

As you optimize your network pay special attention to sponsor-protege relationships as the most important social capital connections to make and maintain. These are reciprocal relationships that will benefit both parties all the way to the top of your climb. Remember to give - don't just take!


Step 3 - Get LinkedIn!

In my quest to find out more about "good 'ole girl" clubs - the kind that I mentioned above - I've been on the prowl for a method to test and rank the strength of various networks and organizations. There are so many women's networks available that it can be challenging to sort through the details. As the World's Largest Professional Network, LinkedIn is a great place to start. 

There are a few insights in the diagram to show why professional women should spend more than the average 17 minutes on LinkedIn building social capital:

I recently became a board member for the 10-year-old non-profit group Empowering Women as Leaders (EWL). The group's passion and focus is providing scholarships, networking, and mentoring for non-traditional college women. The opportunity came to me through one of my LinkedIn connections. I've witnessed the power of EWL in action as STAR Scholarship recipients past and present have talked about the difference the organization has made in their lives. You can find them here on LinkedIn. Is this a plug? Sure is.

There are many other organizations like Million Women Mentors and that I could profile here, but I'll rely on your feedback in the comments section to shout out about strong "good 'ole' girl" clubs that really go the distance with professional women. Now that we understand it's "what we know" that elevates us, we can work to close gaps on "who we know" for a full-circle competitive advantage.

How do you build social capital and how has it helped you with your career climb?

Comment, like, or share your insights - and make all of us stronger.

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