In 2019, we studied how networks and technology could be used to advance women in organizations. Along with the release of the full report, this article summarizes our findings. Gender diversity in the workplace matters, and leaders are taking it seriously. In fact, 87% of organizations say gender diversity is a top priority – up from 74% in 2015.1 Yet, the gender gap – especially in leadership – is not closing and the number of senior women in organizations doesn't reflect this increasing commitment.
We clearly need a different approach. Organizations should understand how professional networks impact women’s advancement and design initiatives with this in mind.
In our report, Helping Women Rise: How Networks and Technology Can Accelerate Women’s Advancement, we analyzed how our professional networks impede or promote women, and the technologies that help organizations understand and address this issue.
Taking a networked perspective
Our networks connect us to specific groups, people, and information. Inclusion at work – being in the "right" professional networks – can be a critical factor that influences promotion and advancement opportunities. Even though we know that our networks matter, we often don’t build and maintain them with intention.
The bad news? Left to haphazardly emerge and evolve by chance, professional networks can negatively impact women’s advancement.
The good news? Organizations can use this information to help women intentionally build opportunities and networks that increase the likelihood of their advancement.
Before companies begin designing network-based initiatives, they should consider four foundational principles of networks (see Figure 1).
New twists on old classics and novel approaches
Our research identified a handful of common and novel practices that organizations use to help women advance (see Figure 2). The common approaches consisted of some of the mainstays in diversity and inclusion efforts. Novel practices are exciting, but have not necessarily proven to be more effective (yet).
Each of these practices can – when designed with a networked perspective – address at least 1 of the 4 foundational principles of networks and help women advance.
Take the common practice of mentorship and sponsorship for example. These initiatives haven’t seen much change in how they’re implemented over the years. However, by applying a networked perspective (see Figure 3), organizations can support – or even create – group-based mentorship and sponsorship – a new twist on an old classic.
Novel approaches also benefit from taking a networked perspective. For example, internal gig-work marketplaces – if designed appropriately – help women in organizations create new, diverse connections and help strengthen their ability to standout from others in their network.
What is an internal gig-work marketplace?
Gig-work marketplaces provide a place within the organization where individuals with small projects can find other employees interested in working on those projects. Therefore, anyone else in the organization who may have some extra time can potentially contribute to this work, while the person doing the work can engage with new people in a meaningful way and learn new skills. The projects are typically shorter in length and represent work that can easily be partitioned into discrete sections. The project owner interviews individuals interested in doing the work and makes the decision of who works on the project. The person wishing to do the project typically needs to get their manager’s approval to take on the additional work. The project posting process is typically enabled by technology and made centrally available.
When we started this project, we had high hopes that organizations would share with us tons of insight on how they were using technology to aid in the advancement of women. After all, if social media can use our networks to suggest events we should attend, music we might like, people we may know, and careers / roles that match our interests and experience, organizations should be able to mirror this internally.
Well, we were wrong. Our research found that, overall, organizations are not taking full advantage of the technologies that can help them take a networked approach to support women who want to advance their careers.
Organizations know technology can help; they just aren’t sure what options are available, or where to start. So, we created a few cheat sheets in our report to get organizations started (see Figure 4).
Our report breaks down each of the common and novel practices we uncovered, and how they can address one or more of the foundational principles of networks. In addition, we dive into technology offerings for each of these practices.
For more information on each of these practices and the technologies organizations can leverage to take a more networked perspective, we encourage you to download and read the full report by clicking the image below.
You can find information on the specific practices our research uncovered in short articles – part of the Women & Networks series – including:
- Women in the Workplace, McKinsey & Co. / LeanIn.org, 2019.