You’ve heard about the gender pay gap — but there’s another gap that’s nearly as important, though much less discussed: The network gap.
A weaker network means less access to job opportunities. It also means companies may be missing some of the best candidates: Those who have the right skills, but lack the right connections.
It’s a big problem — one that disproportionately holds back women, according to new research from LinkedIn.
Women in the U.S. are 28% less likely than men to have a strong network, according to LinkedIn data. This “gender network gap” holds true across virtually every country we looked at.
Women themselves are already actively seeking to address this gap — they were 32% more likely than men to take courses related to networking on LinkedIn Learning last year. LinkedIn as a company is also working to close the gap.
But what can recruiters and hiring managers do about the gender network gap? Read on for three tips.
1. Don’t rely too much on referral programs
While referrals are one of the most popular recruiting tactics, they’re completely based on people’s personal networks — and therefore biased by network gaps. That’s why referral programs have been called “the fastest way to build a monoculture.”
On top of that, women are 26% less likely than men to ask for a referral, as revealed in LinkedIn’s Gender Insights Report. So personal referrals may disproportionately surface men over women.
That said, there are still ways to increase diverse referrals, such as challenging employees to hit specific diversity goals, offering bigger incentives, or holding special recruiting events organized by one of your company’s employee resource groups (ERGs).
2. Ensure your job descriptions aren’t gendered
Language matters, especially in your job descriptions and job posts. Using gendered language can dissuade people from applying — e.g., women are more likely to be discouraged by the word “aggressive,” which can be perceived as masculine.
Just as candidates might be less likely to apply to a gendered job description, your employees might be less likely to refer the women in their personal network.
Even if they have lots of qualified women in their network, an overly masculine job description could unconsciously nudge them to think of male friends and coworkers instead.
Writing job descriptions that avoid bias is a small step that can make a big difference.
3. Take the Plus One Pledge
As the world’s biggest professional networking platform, LinkedIn is taking steps to close the network gap through our products, programs and people – from evaluating the features we build to scaling hiring and apprenticeship programs.
But closing the network gap also takes work on a personal level. That’s where the Plus One Pledge comes in: our call to share your time, talent, or connections with people outside your network who may not have access to the same resources you do.
Whether it’s giving some quick career advice to someone looking for a foothold in your field, a full-blown mentorship, or anything in-between, every bit helps close the network gap.
In fact, a recent study found that networks are key to closing the gender gap. The research showed that men and women required different types of networks to succeed: men benefitted from an open or diverse network (i.e., being connected to lots of people who don’t know each other). While women also benefited from a diverse network, they also required one more thing: a strong close network of female contacts.
The study’s authors suggest that “because women seeking [leadership jobs] often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts” that can help guide them through those challenges.
Of course, men in women’s networks also play a critical role — e.g., the LeanIn organization emphasizes the need for men to mentor women with its #MentorHer campaign.
Women still face lots of challenges in the workplace, from the gender pay gap to underrepresentation in leadership.
The gender network gap isn’t the sole reason for that adversity, but it is a factor that’s easily ignored and deserves more attention. By doing your part to close the network gap, you and your company can help ensure people with equal talents have equal access to opportunity, no matter who they are or where they come from.
Gender network gaps across countries
- In Singapore, women are 38% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Ireland, women are 37% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In the Netherlands, women are 35% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Australia, women are 30% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In the United States, women are 28% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In the United Kingdom, women are 27% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Brazil, women are 27% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Canada, women are 26% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Argentina, women are 24% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Spain, women are 24% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Germany, women are 22% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In France, women are 21% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Italy, women are 18% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In Mexico, women are 18% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
- In India, women are 14% less likely than men to have a strong network on Linkedin
Methodology: Insights are generated from the billions of data points created by more than 675+ million members in over 200 countries on LinkedIn today. This analysis is based on aggregated, anonymized LinkedIn data from members who identify as either “male” or “female” on their LinkedIn profiles in countries with at least 67% gender coverage. Members who have chosen not to disclose their gender were excluded from this analysis.
Network strength is calculated based on a member’s network size (i.e. number of connections) and openness (i.e. connections with people who aren’t connected to each other). Likelihood to have a “strong network” is calculated as the percentage of men and women who fall in the top 20% of members by network strength in their country.
By Gregory Lewis and Deanne Tockey