Professional Partner Content

How Women Leaders Can Build Strong Networks for Success


A study comprising 118 companies revealed that “senior women executives attributed most of their advancement to having connections.” Additionally, according to management consultant Harvey Coleman, who’s studied career success factors for more than five decades, your network is not half the battle, but more than that—60 percent!

Coleman’s research shows that hard work to deliver against the expectations of a role—that is, performance—is only 10 percent of what makes for career success. Instead, upward mobility comes from your image. This is how you differentiate yourself. It’s your personal brand, or what others say about you when asked, that constitutes 30 percent of career success.

Yet, we recognize that a personal brand only carries weight if others know about it. This is why the largest career-success factor is exposure, representing the remaining 60 percent. Exposure refers to who knows you, who has seen you in action, and who will speak on your behalf to support your decisions and your next promotion when you’re not in the room.

And for those who are disadvantaged in some way—for example, new graduates, people new to the company, or people (often women) who have had to put more focus on childcare and other matters in their personal life—it is much harder to build the network needed to grow a strong career.

What’s different about the way men and women network? Do men and women really network differently? I was talking about this issue recently with a friend who’s also a woman executive. Her answer: an emphatic “No!” And to some extent, that’s true. Most networking strategies for connecting with people at work and outside of it apply to and are used by both men and women. However, there are a few unique factors to pay attention to when women network:


First, socializing with the manager can offer unequal rewards. According to a study by two economics professors from Harvard and UCLA, male employees who report to a male manager advance faster in their organizations. Compared to men who moved to a female manager, men who moved to a male manager had 13 percent higher pay two years after the transition. The same study showed that those male employees were significantly more likely to share work breaks with the male managers. On the other hand, there was no significant gender difference in how men or women fared under women managers, as the women managers tended to socialize equally.

Second, women benefit from networking with other women. While everyone needs a strong network across genders, a 2019 study showed that women leaders received unique value from networking with other women. In particular, the highest-achieving women benefitted from having a close inner circle of a few other women who could provide support, gender-specific job advice, and connections within their larger networks. Meanwhile, women who had male-dominated networks with weaker ties to women tended to be the lowest achieving in the study[EL1] . In short: Men and women both need diverse and influential networks. But women do much better when they also have a close-knit group of women in their network.


Further, DDI’s global research on mentoring women in the workplace shows that women want to support each other in the workplace rather than rival each other.

Learn more ways women and men network differently and the six types of career networks every woman leader needs in this DDI blog post.

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