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May 02, 2012 Practice Points

Adjustments to Networks are Needed to Make Them Useful for Women

By Joanne Geha Swanson

The majority of women surveyed at the Simmons Leadership Conference last year were less than enthusiastic about the effectiveness of their at-work networks in promoting their careers. Nearly 80 percent of the 166 middle to senior-level businesswomen who participated in the survey ranked their network “somewhat effective” or “not effective.” But it may be that women are neglecting their networks. Approximately 70 percent of the women who participated in the survey were not actively involved in their networks; this is the same percentage of women that were unsure of their network’s value. Greater satisfaction existed among women who were active network participants. The study reports that African-American women, who were more likely to be actively involved in their networks, were also more likely to believe that their networks were effective in promoting women.

The study, which was conducted by the Simmons College School of Management, identified skill-building opportunities (such as training, sharing best practices, mentoring, and coaching) and visibility to senior management as the most valued aspects of women’s networks. Other useful services include seminars or webinars, community service, volunteer activities, and career development book groups. Social events and assistance with family issues were reported to be the least valued. Networks that were rated “very effective” met frequently, had open eligibility, and were partially or fully funded. Male participation through sponsorship and managerial support was also seen by survey participants as contributing to the effectiveness of a network. The three most frequent themes on the subject of improving women’s networks were to increase senior management involvement; to provide more concrete, planned programming; and to improve organization and communication.

The survey respondents were typically well-educated, reasonably affluent, successful women with extensive work experience. Read more survey results and reports.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, network, women

Joanne Geha Swanson  works at Kerr, Russell and Weber, PLC in Detroit, Michigan.

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