Published Research & Working Papers on Gender, Networks, & Networking
Woehler, M., Cullen-Lester, K. L., Porter, C. M., & Frear, K. (2021). Whether, how, and why networks influence men’s and women’s career success: Review and research agenda. Journal of Management, 47(1), 207-236.
Substantial research has documented the challenges women experience building and benefiting from networks to achieve career success. Yet fundamental questions remain regarding which aspects of men’s and women’s networks differ and the impact such differences have on their careers. In this review, we present an integrative conceptual framework that delineates two distinct, complementary explanations for how networks factors into gender-related career inequality. The first, unequal network characteristics (UNC), asserts that men and women have different network characteristics, which account for differences in career success. The second, unequal network returns (UNR), asserts that even when men and women have the same network characteristics, they provide different degrees of career success. Further, we specify interpersonal (actor and contact) processes and aspects of the professional and organizational environment that give rise to UNC and UNR. In doing so, we offer conceptual clarity regarding how and why gender and networks—in concert—may explain gender differences in career success. We use this framework to organize the existing literature and review the extent to which there is evidence of UNC and UNR for specific network characteristics. This systematic review of empirical studies examining specific network characteristics is clarifies what we know about whether, how, and why men and women’s networks factor in career success. Building upon insights from our review and framework, we offer guidance for future research and practical insights for organizations aiming to address career inequity resulting from network creation and utilization processes.
Woehler, M., Porter, C. M., & Cullen-Lester, K. L. Should I reach up: Gender difference in benefiting from higher-ranking contacts. (Stage: Friendly reviews; Target: Academy of Management Journal)
Higher-ranking contacts are theorized to be advantageous professional connections who facilitate work and career success. However, empirical evidence regarding the extent to which having higher-ranking contacts actually yields benefits is mixed, which raises the question: Who benefits from higher-ranking contacts at work? Integrating gender role and social network theory, we propose that having connections with higher-ranking contacts signals to oneself and others that one is agentic. This signal is (in)consistent with (wo)men’s gender role stereotypes, which differentially influences how others evaluate men and women’s performance. Relying upon this theorizing, we investigate whether men and women benefit from relationships with higher-ranking contacts to the same degree. Across three studies with different research contexts and designs, we provide consistent evidence that having more higher-ranking contacts benefits men’s yet harms women’s performance evaluations. Study 3 provides initial insights into why men and women with more higher-ranking contacts receive divergent performance evaluations. We examine gender differences in observer bias (i.e., observers’ willingness to give resources and perceived status of actors) and actor hesitancy (i.e., actors’ willingness to request resources from observers and anxiety) as explanations for this relationship. We conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of gender role inconsistent networks for women’s work and career success.
Cullen-Lester, K. L, Woehler, M., & Willburn, P. (2016). Network-based leadership development: A guiding framework and resources for management educators. Journal of Management Education, 40(3), 321–358.
Management education and leadership development has traditionally focused on improving human capital (i.e., knowledge, skills, and abilities). Social capital, networks, and networking skills have received less attention. When this content has been incorporated into learning and development experiences, it has often been more ad hoc and has overlooked how gender affects individuals’ ability to build and use networks effectively. To address these limitations, we present a three-step framework designed to guide management educators in helping others to (1) address misconceptions they have about networks and networking, (2) learn whether their current network is effective, and (3) identify networking strategies they can use to change their network and improve its effectiveness. In each stage, we discuss challenges that both men and women face and identify challenges that are particularly salient for women. Beyond providing this framework as a guide for incorporating networks, networking, and social capital into leadership development, we offer resources management educators can use at each step to create positive learning and development experiences. Finally, we discuss specific considerations for implementing network-based leadership development in women’s only and mixed gender courses and leadership development programs.
Woehler, M. & Cullen-Lester, K. L. Exploring the mechanisms underlying network-related paths to gender inequality: Potential, activated, and mobilized networks. (Stage: Data analysis; Target: Organization Science)
This project explores the mechanisms underlying the unequal network returns (UNR) explanation for gender inequality in career success, which suggests that even when men and women have the same actual or “potential” network (i.e., their network characteristics are similar and thus hold similar amounts of work- and career-benefiting resources), men and women receive different returns from their networks. The UNR explanation is grounded in theorizing that individuals’ career success depends (in part) on the extent to which they derive work- and career-benefiting resources from their connections and that characteristics of their potential network signal their value to others (Podolny, 2001). Men and women might receive divergent returns because of differences in focal actors’ (the people whose career success is of primary focus) use of workplace relationships (actor mechanism) use or attempts to derive resources from their contacts, as well as bias among contacts with whom the focal actor has relationships and thus who could provide him/her with resources (contact mechanism). Actor use mechanisms explain how differences in the way men and women actors think, feel, and act when occupying the same network position and/or leveraging their workplace relationships to access resources influence their access to career outcomes. In particular, men and women may think of (cognitively activate), reach out to (mobilize) and actually derive resources from (successfully mobilize) different contacts—resulting in divergent returns. Contact bias mechanisms explain how network contacts may think, feel, and act differently toward men and women actors occupying certain network positions or attempting to use (derive resources from) their networks.