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02nd Apr 2024

Study reveals having high-powered connections can backfire for women

Anna Martin


Having connections can sometimes feel like having a secret weapon in your back pocket

If you find yourself stuck for a job or maybe you’re working on a big project and need a hand with something, you know you have someone who can give a dig-out.

Yet a study has found that for women, being well connected might not always work out in their favour.

New research conducted in China and the United States suggests that having high-status connections can backfire for women.

The study, by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Michigan, appears in Organisation Science.

“Our findings reveal a social-network dilemma for women that is contrary to a widely accepted belief that women should build their network with high-status individuals,” said co-author Catherine Shea, assistant professor of organisational behaviour and theory at CMU’s Tepper School of Business.

“High-status network contacts may be necessary for success, but they create an extra social perceptual hurdle for women to overcome.”

Credit: Canva

Women working in organisations are, on average, less successful than men: they are proportionally under-represented in management, receive less credit for their contributions, and are not as valued for their expertise.

While it’s common for women to make connections with high-status people by asking for advice and seeking mentorship, it doesn’t help to close the gap between their male counterparts.

Yet despite the time and effort put in to build these relationships, it might do little to actually help women progress in their careers.

The study found that women with ties to high-status contacts had less respect and admiration from other group members, compared to women with ties to lower-status contacts.

On top of the women who made ties to higher-status people were seen as being higher in dominance which may sound like a positive on paper, but actually was a drawback.

Women who are dominant can face social penalties as they can be viewed as violating gender norms.

Interestingly when women stated that they were forming these connections for the benefit of the group over their own self-interest, they were spared any social backlash.