Why Women’s Networks Aren’t as Useful as Men’s (and what’s up with that?!)

Why Women’s Networks Aren’t as Useful as Men’s (and what’s up with that?!)

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the prestigious BMLI-WICT leadership program – one of the most extensive and long-standing women’s leadership programs in the US, for one of the toughest market sectors the cable industry.

My colleague and I, Kristin Cullen, laid out the big differences between women and men when it comes to building an effective network. Among lots of the data we shared, the one piece of data that seemed to resonate in the room (of 50 women and 1 guy – yes, me) was the fact that women are over mentored and under sponsored.

Although there are no structural differences between the way women and men build relationships (see Ron Burt’s research on this, here is the pdf), women tend not to reap the rewards from mentoring as much as men.

There is a myth out there in mentor-land: that women are mentored less than men, and most of the women in the room confirmed this myth stating clearly that men are more mentored than women.

However, the data from a recent survey done on women and mentoring shows the exact opposite.

the numbers on mentoringThis interesting fact led us into another conversation about who is more likely to be promoted because of mentoring. This time, the room’s intuition was right on. who gets promotionsThe answer in the room was pretty obvious – men tend to receive promotions because of mentoring – needless to say there were lots of stories of how men in thetheir industry tended to promote other men that they were mentoring …

Here is the last little bit of data.

Who is more likely to be mentored by a CEO/Senior Executive?

who mentored by an senior execWomen were also more likely to have junior mentors (non-manager or first-level manager) than men.

Through these discussions, the women became very aware that there was an overarching issue with mentoring and a bias towards how benefit from it and how women do not.

We ended out discussion with the difference between mentorship and sponsorship – which was highlighted in a great article in HBR.

mentorship vs sponsorshipThe big distinction between mentorship for men and women is that women tend to be over mentored and under sponsored. We had a big discussion on why that is – and there were some interesting points that emerged (that I had never honestly thought about before – no big surprise there).

Here are just a few:

  • Sponsorship is tricky because there is a stigma around a man (sponsor) and woman (protégé) spending lots of time together (inside and outside work).
  • Men tend to be more aggressive in asking to be sponsored and using their relationships to move up in an organization.
  • Men tend to build friendships out of their sponsor, whereas women tend to have mostly outside-work friendships.

It was a fascinating discussion and an obvious problem when it comes to women leaders and their networks. After mapping their core network ties, we asked them to identify their mentors and/or sponsors in their current network. We challenged them to increase their overall dedication with either converting mentors to sponsors or spending time finding sponsors for their own careers.

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