Among the many disadvantages that women have at work, here is one that is often overlooked: they have fewer opportunities to form beneficial networks, and even if they succeed, they gain less benefit than men. This matters greatly for their careers because network ties to coworkers help employees gain skills,learn about opportunities, and execute plans. A particular disadvantage is women’s problems in getting brokerage positions in network. A network broker is connected to people who are not directly connected to each other. Brokers gain separate pieces of information quickly and can quickly assemble them to form opportunities.
Why is it hard for women to become brokers? To begin with, it is hard for anyone because it requires reaching beyond the immediate work group. It is also hard because people are suspicious of brokers and may be reluctant to share information with them. In fact, the most effective brokers are those who are not known to be brokers. For women, these suspicions are especially strong because of the gendered belief that women maintain closer relations with proximate friends and coworkers. As a result, they gain less access to brokerage and less benefit from brokerage.
Changing jobs has many of the same disadvantages, even if the job change is just a reassignment ordered by the employer. But here is the interesting part: when women move, the brokerage disadvantages disappear. Both disadvantages. Women who move gain brokerage positions just as easily as men who move, and women who move obtain the same performance benefits as men who move. This is a new discovery from a paper by Evelyn Zhang, Brandy Aven, and Adam Kleinbaum published in Administrative Science Quarterly. Their idea, which turned out to be true, is that moving gives “license to broker” because network ties in the new workplace are necessary, and maintaining contacts with the prior workplace is expected – especially for women, who are supposed to be more stable network partners than men (again a gendered belief). So in this case two wrongs make a right.
Interesting? Let us not see this as encouraging information though. Even when workers benefit from gendered beliefs like this, the beliefs still create a warped workplace where opportunities and rewards are unfairly distributed.
Zhang,Evelyn Y., Brandy L. Aven, and Adam M. Kleinbaum. License to Broker: How Mobility Eliminates Gender Gaps in Network Advantage. Administrative Science Quarterly, forthcoming.
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