Why women need access to high-power networks

by May 28, 2024

Women need access to high-power networks

 Developing an influential network is an important part of career development but that women lack the same access to high-power networks.


Career success is complex and made up of many elements. One strong piece is the quality of your network made up of who you know, and who knows you. Descartes famously said  “I think therefore I exist”

Today, I say “I link therefore I exist”

We cite women’s inability to access high-power networks as one of the main causes of gender imbalance at senior levels in the workplace.  Developing an influential network is an important part of a career development plan. Yet all research studies suggest that women lack the same access to high-power networks as their male colleagues.


high-power networks


Recently published research

Recent research published in Academy of Management Journal, in October 2023 highlights what we already know. Women face unique challenges in building high-status networks.

This research focuses on two major systemic factors that act as barriers to women’s networking capacity and therefore their career progression. There is a lot of academic speak to unpick but in simple language:

  • Network proximity – This refers to how close someone is to other individuals within a network. Closer proximity generally means more opportunities for interaction, communication, and support.
  • Geographic proximity or location  – same place or near each other

The researchers used data drawn from 42 of the largest pharmaceutical companies between 1985 and 2010.  They demonstrated how “women who are geographically colocated with a “star” colleague are less likely to form a tie with that colleague compared to male peers who are similarly colocated, and that this difference persists irrespective of the star’s gender.”

So although the research has only been recently published the data itself is not current. 14 years later it would be interesting to see if it is still applicable.

Network introductions

The same research also suggested that “the presence of common third-party ties generally benefits women more than men, and this effect is amplified when the influential or central figure in the network (the star colleague) is also a woman.”

  • Common Third-Party Ties: These are connections where two individuals are both connected to a third person. For example, if  Suzie and Pierre both know Sam, Sam is the common third-party tie.  Women can gain access to information, resources, mentorship, or career opportunities – but all other research suggests that they don’t necessarily result in promotions. This is where sponsorship comes in.
  • Star Colleague  A “star colleague” is someone who is highly influential, successful, or well-connected. When this star colleague is a woman, the benefits women receive from network proximity become even more pronounced. This might be due to stronger mutual understanding, mentorship, and support that women can provide to each other in professional settings. However, they also need a sponsor to reach that senior position.


Take a look at our FREE e-book for 12 key steps to attract, recruit and retain female talent.


Structural factors

The study shows how being physically or socially close to others affects women and men differently in forming high-status connections which ease career progression. It goes beyond just saying women have less access to workplace networks. Men and women tend to prefer same-gender networking which puts women at a serious disadvantage while men occupy the majority of key positions of power and influence.

Worth a read: How to onboard women in male-dominated environments – 3 Plus International

For organisations committed to gender equality, it’s obvious that they need to create opportunities for women to have better direct access to people of influence in their geographic locations. It also means that women have to get out of their comfort zones to create high-power networks under their own steam.


To support women in your organisation create high-power networks – get in touch now via info@3plusinternational.com


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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