Women and social networks at work
March 31, 2015 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Women often have decreased access to professional networks and mentors for a variety of reasons--men are more likely to mentor and sponsor other men, informal social networking often centers around gendered activity, women may simply not have the time to do after-work socializing. This is unfortunate, since networks and mentoring are incredibly valuable for female professionals and entrepreneurs. The obvious solution has been to encourage early-career women to network more and "better" and highly-placed women to mentor and support younger women, but this has had mixed results. It turns out that highly-ranking women do disproportionately mentor and support lower-ranking women--but only if they aren't "tokens" at their level of their own workplace but instead part of multiple women at that level.

Of course, it's not quite as simple as "women helping women," either. Women of color sometimes find it even harder to access good mentors and find social support than white women. Women are also more likely to feel hesitant about asking for mentorship or overestimate the work involved in taking on a protege. Besides, starting successful networks or networking groups can be harder than it looks. And of course, men can help by networking with women and advocating for women at newer career stages, too.
posted by sciatrix (3 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this! I think another reason that mentorship is so valuable and validating in business is that having a mentor makes it easier to believe in yourself and advocate for yourself. It's the difference between standing alone in the center of a crowded room, and standing alone, knowing someone in that crowd has your back.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2015

At the beginning of my career, all my women bosses were the "token" kind, and to a one, they saw me as a threat, which I found bewildering (I was not ambitious for their jobs at the time, also I was naively trusting). I had one actually torpedo a promotion I was up for (can't prove it but know it happened). It was hard not to make sexist assumptions until I had more context for how isolating and crazy making it can be to be the lone woman in a male-dominated company/profession, especially if you started out in the 70s as many of them did. Or maybe I just had very bad luck. I certainly had bad male bosses too, but the betrayal hurt worse when it was women.

Later, I found some good ones, but none who were ever my mentor. At this stage, I'm probably too old to be mentored and have too scattered a resume to mentor others in any but a general sense. I'm glad discussions like this are at least taking place now; when I was younger there was no sense that one did anything but be grateful for whatever crumbs you got, and there was no internet to help you find out if/just how badly you were being underpaid. At best, you could find books on how to dress/act in ways that might make men take you more seriously. Also a lot of articles on "success" ended up telling you to consider dropping out and raising kids, or teaching, or starting your own business, maybe something "womanly" like selling crafts or cleaning houses.
posted by emjaybee at 2:13 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's worth mentioning that I am very early on in my career but that I've also had the benefit of a number of great mentors, some male and some female. (Most of this has been luck on my part, although part of the good mentoring I had earlier on was "how to identify and select a good official mentor later on" as my profession formalizes that aspect of development at my career stage.) I'm really interested in other women's experiences!

I found it interesting while putting this together that nearly all the pieces I could find were very negatively framed--"why senior women don't help junior women" or "why women's networking groups fail" rather than "here are the benefits of networking" or "here is why it's really important to put yourself out there and look for a mentor, and here's what to look for." There also seemed to be a lot of assumption that women are somehow Doing it Wrong.
posted by sciatrix at 3:13 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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