Women Must Work Harder to Climb Professional Ladder

A new international study suggests aspiring professional women need to learn how to better build, maintain, and use their social capital in their quest for the top.

Social capital or professional networks are often more difficult for women to cultivate than for men, yet extremely important for career advancement.

This is one of the findings of a study by postgraduate student Natasha Abajian, supervised by Dr. Ruth Sealy, at City University London and presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference.

Abajian said, “Access to social networks typically differs for men and for women. Usually women have less access to networks typically associated with career progression. These networks or ‘who you know and who knows you’ are responsible for a large percentage of career progression so limited access could be a barrier to women’s opportunities.”

In the study, researchers interviewed 12 women employed as a chief executive officer (CEO) or managing director (MD) in the communications industry to explore their perceptions of social capital and how much they believed it was instrumental in helping their careers. The interviews were recorded and analyzed.

Investigators discovered that the women perceived their social capital to have contributed to their appointments. However, researchers found that these elite leaders believed they possessed superior abilities to build, maintain, and use social capital than women in general.

All of the participants reported that women generally lacked the ability, knowledge, or opportunity to accrue or use their social capital in the context of senior-level promotion.

Although a strong network is essential for any aspiring leader, and despite the widespread impact of women in business, the need for a strong network is more important for women than for men.

Abajian said, “It’s interesting to examine the perspectives of women who have broken through the ‘glass ceiling.’ However, I believe this phrase, by depicting a single obstacle at a high level, fails to account for the subtle inequalities that arise throughout a career journey.

“The continual use of this metaphor may encourage women to behave in a stereotypical gendered way rather than challenging the status quo. The participants in this study acted in a non-stereotypical manner and they succeeded in being appointed MD/CEO. Women who want to progress to the highest levels need to be aware of the value of social capital and know how to use this to their advantage.”

Source: British Psychological Society