Panacea or Placebo: Are Women’s Networks Working for Women?
Bucking the notion that the establishment of a women's network at work is a key strategy to advancing women in organizations, a new survey finds that many businesswomen have a lukewarm opinion about the ability of these groups to promote their careers.
In a study conducted at the 2011 Simmons College Leadership Conference with a lead conference sponsor HP, women said they believe the efficacy of a women's network at work is only as strong as a company's investment in the group and the depth of its connection with the overall organizational strategy. Specifically, the study found that women believe these networks were of particular value when they provided skill-building opportunities (training, mentoring, coaching) and visibility (exposure to senior management.)
"When time, resources, and efforts are devoted to creating a women's network, supported by top management—one that that delivers well-organized and specific programming—it has an impact, " said Patricia Deyton, Ph.D., faculty director of the Center for Gender in Organizations (CGO) at the Simmons School of Management and co-author of the study. "The study confirms that it's simply beyond the scope of women's networks alone to address the subtle cultural barriers that often impede women's ability to ascend to leadership positions."
The study, which surveyed 268 middle to senior-level businesswomen with extensive work experience, found that women consistently said they believe their women's network would be more effective with increased involvement by senior management, both male and female; more concrete planned programming; and a better overall organization and communications. Visit the CGO website to read the full study.
Respondents reported that the least valuable outcome provided by women's networks were social events and assistance with family issues. Further, the study found that African-American women were more likely to be actively involved and were more likely to believe that the network was in both meeting and in promoting women.
The survey is part of the ongoing research conducted by the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons School of Management, to analyze workplace and cultural practices that impede the advancement of women, as well as to explore and participate in the creation of new knowledge that translates into organizational practices.
(From the press release)