Study Finds Having a High-Status Network Can Result in Social Backlash for Women Professionals

A new study has revealed that professional women who have high-status connections may receive less respect than their male peers and other women with less-prestigious connections. The research was led by Siyu Yu, assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Michigan, and Catherine Shea, assistant professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Yu and Dr. Shea were inspired to conduct their research after discovering that the majority of established scientific literature on the benefits of high-status professional networks have included male participants, with an assumption that professional women would experience the same benefits. For their project, the research team conducted five studies on the perceptions of observers as they evaluated an individual’s professional network. The project consisted of three studies in China and two in the United States with a total of 3,000 individual participants.

The results showed that women who were associated with prestigious networks had less respect and admiration from participants compared to women with perceived lower-status connections. These women were also seen as more dominant, and therefore subject to additional social penalties as dominance in women can be seen as defying stereotypical gender norms. However, women who specifically stated they were networking with high-status connections for the benefit of others did not experience the same social penalties.

The authors hope their findings bring awareness to this form of gender bias in professional organizations. They suggest that organizational leaders develop networking and mentoring programs specifically for women as well as implement gender-bias sensitivity training to mitigate social status backlash for women with high-status connections.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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