A network’s gender composition and communication pattern predict women’s leadership success

Yang, Y., et al. (2019). "A network’s gender composition and communication pattern predict women’s leadership success." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 201721438.

Graduate programs increasingly place women directly into leadership positions. For men, centrality in the school-wide student network predicts job-rank placement. Women’s placement is also predicted by centrality and the presence of a distinctive inner circle of women in their network. The inner circle of high-placing women displays an unusual network duality: The network has cliquish ties among women, but each woman is connected to a separate set of third-party contacts. This dual connectivity of strong and weak ties appears to provide simultaneous access to gender-related tacit information important for women’s success as well as diverse job-market data needed for successful job search and negotiations.Many leaders today do not rise through the ranks but are recruited directly out of graduate programs into leadership positions. We use a quasi-experiment and instrumental-variable regression to understand the link between students’ graduate school social networks and placement into leadership positions of varying levels of authority. Our data measure students’ personal characteristics and academic performance, as well as their social network information drawn from 4.5 million email correspondences among hundreds of students who were placed directly into leadership positions. After controlling for students’ personal characteristics, work experience, and academic performance, we find that students’ social networks strongly predict placement into leadership positions. For males, the higher a male student’s centrality in the school-wide network, the higher his leadership-job placement will be. Men with network centrality in the top quartile have an expected job placement level that is 1.5 times greater than men in the bottom quartile of centrality. While centrality also predicts women’s placement, high-placing women students have one thing more: an inner circle of predominantly female contacts who are connected to many nonoverlapping third-party contacts. Women with a network centrality in the top quartile and a female-dominated inner circle have an expected job placement level that is 2.5 times greater than women with low centrality and a male-dominated inner circle. Women who have networks that resemble those of high-placing men are low-placing, despite having leadership qualifications comparable to high-placing women.

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