Why it’s a good career choice to join women-only professional networks

Women-only professional networks have become a familiar feature of the corporate world. Created to organize and channel female voices and experiences, some have even become big businesses themselves.

Organizations like Driven Woman and Ellevate have an international reach and see themselves as a vital part of improving the equality and status of women in business.

Of course, such groups are not without criticism. Some say they’re not that helpful (at least compared to traditional “old boy” networks, where men use their positions of influence to help others with similar social or educational backgrounds) while d others say they are elitists. They have even been described as “glorified knitting circles”.

Yet the popularity of women’s networks continues to grow. And, according to our recent research, with good reason.

By analyzing the online discussions of four major women’s business networks in the US and UK, we were able to better understand the value they bring to the lives and careers of professional women. Overall, we have found them highly valued by their members, for providing both individual and collective strategies that help them navigate workplaces that remain male-dominated.

One of the networks we looked at directly invites potential members to challenge the prevailing status quo, asking, “Are you tired of the traditional top-down hierarchy structures and competitive me-first culture? Old patriarchal ways are rapidly breaking down when women begin to create the kind of environments where they thrive and thrive.

Our analysis has shown that these networks are very effective in creating such environments, and that the most obvious reason for joining one is probably the professional support it can offer. For women just starting out in their careers, or returning from maternity leave or sabbaticals, previous research suggests that joining a global professional network can be essential.

Women in these groups are more likely to be offered better jobs and get promoted. The increased visibility gained through networking can lead to women receiving higher salaries and establishing a pathway to higher levels in an organization. We have found that women’s business networks provide critical career development opportunities and resources.

We also saw evidence of multiple benefits from connecting with women from different industries and at different career stages. A popular perk was the availability of psychological and emotional support, which some members said boosted their self-confidence – especially when combined with the career advice network members often share.

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Take the lead

Many networks also have mentorship programs and actively encourage more experienced women to share details of their career paths. We’ve found that female senior executives are just as eager to learn about – and meet – the next generation of female leaders.

As one woman put it on a networking forum, “If you’re not willing to help others in their quest for success, how can you expect to get a boost yourself?

“By sharing your journey and exposing your vulnerability, you are actually making your experiences available for others to learn from. It’s one of the best ways to help others.

The networks have also been widely praised for promoting “intersectionality,” a term that encapsulates the overlapping nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender.. They often provide access to a greater diversity of backgrounds and experiences than their members were accustomed to. Such interactions enabled women to better address power and privilege at work and beyond.

As one network blog entry put it, “Every time I meet a group of driven women, I am struck by the wonderful variety of backgrounds and characters, backgrounds and dreams they have. . Exploring with them what happened in their life and where they are going next helps me learn and improve too.

Taking a broader view, away from individual career development, we have found that many network members see their networks as a way to make the business world a fairer place for women and girls. As one member commented, “For many years I played right into the patriarchal game without ever realizing it.”

She added: “So the next time you’re feeling small, overwhelmed and confused, remember this: It’s not who you are. There’s a huge [amount] energy and dynamism within you”.

Overall, we found that women’s business networks are seen by their members as spaces that can bring about collective change and transformation, with immense professional and personal value. They are seen as a trusted and accessible source of advice and information on everything from improving work-life balance to motherhood, or working from home to starting a business – and providing a favorable in which to prosper.

Elina Meliou, Reader in Organizational Behavior and Aston University, and Florence Villesèche, Associate Professor, Copenhagen Business School first published this article on The Conversation.


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