A survey of 2,907 young professionals reveals that women aged 30 and under will experience several barriers to their advancement in the first five years of working life. Mary Hamilton, a director at the company which conducted the survey, said of the results:
When we think of women hitting the glass ceiling, we likely think of women who are later in their careers, who have worked hard and proven themselves time and time again but have not advanced as far as their male counterparts have. However, according to Forbes, women reach the glass ceiling much earlier on – within five years of being in the workforce.
“Typically, the storyline goes, as women try to advance in their careers they get to the point where they’re hitting the glass ceiling because they are stepping away for families and that is where all the pay gap and promotion challenges are coming in. What we wanted to investigate was how early does this really start for women? Turns out it is a lot earlier than we think.”
The Benefit of Female Networks
A contributing factor to this issue is the inadequate access to networks that 55% of young women experience, the study found.
“The onus is being put on the women to go out and find a network, as opposed to creating a culture that supports this. When do you have access to networks and mentors? It’s when you’re engaged in the truly high-value activities within your company or organization,” Hamilton says.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that companies promote women-only networks within the organization. Networks leads to numerous benefits for female employees, including:
- They create a community – A safe, supportive network for like-minded women is key. It provides women with a place to connect, communicate, and share about common experiences.
- They lead to quality referrals – A network provides female employees with greater opportunity to receive high quality referrals, allowing them to grow and thrive within the company.
- They’re a great way to find a mentor – According to a study conducted by LinkedIn, 82% of women believe in the importance of having a mentor, though 20% of those women report not having access to one. Receiving advice from seasoned, successful women can help other women navigate and feel more supported.
- They help build confidence – Belonging to a network of women where one is accepted and supported builds confidence. This leads women to take on challenges and opportunities that they perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise.
- They inspire – What’s more motivating than hearing the stories and lessons of women who have navigated and overcome challenges in their professional career? Not only will this inspire women who are young professionals to rise the ranks, but it will encourage them to become amazing role models for those that follow them.
Female Networks Can Help Reduce the Gender Gap
Female networking can help to reduce inequality, according to a study published by the Harvard Business Review. The study examined 2,600 women who attended Conferences for Women and compared them to women who signed up but did not attend. For the women who’d signed up for the conference but didn’t attend, 18% received a promotion during the time period studied, compared with 42% of women who attended the conference. In addition, 5% of the women who didn’t attend received a pay increase of more than 10%, compared with 15% of women who had attended the conference.
When women network with other women, it pays off.
What Organizations Can Do
As Hamilton stated, the onus is often put on women to go out and find a network. This should not be the case. Companies should create an environment that promotes female networking, and there are many ways to accomplish that.
- Organizations can survey their female employees to assess their concerns and determine what issues are important to them. This gives women at the company a voice and demonstrates that their opinions are valued. It also helps to set a focus for the network.
- Company leadership can involve themselves in the network – particularly the women in leadership. They serve as the mentors and the inspiration to young women just starting their professional careers.
- In order for a network to be successful, it needs to be cohesive. Organizations can host casual networking events that allow female members to connect and communicate over food and drinks.
- Network panel discussions can also be held to further the conversation on important workplace issues that impact women.
- The more that companies can do to promote and strengthen female networks, the closer they will get to breaking down the barriers that their female employees face.
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Grace Malloy is a 28-year-old living in the Greater Boston area, with interests in writing, public service, and women’s rights. While working as a software support specialist, she received her Masters Degree in Public Administration – a challenging yet fulfilling experience. She aspires to use her strengths and passions to make a positive impact on her community.