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"Blending In" vs. "Sticking Together:" Women of Color Use Differing Strategies for Informal Networking, Catalyst Study Finds

Women of color use differing strategies to network informally and these strategies are linked to their promotion rates and organizational commitment, according to Connections That Count: The Informal Networks of Women of Color in the United States, a Catalyst study released today. Catalyst is the leading research and advisory services organization working to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women and business. 

According to Catalyst’s censuses of women board directors and women corporate officers, although white women have made minor advances to leadership positions, women of color are severely underrepresented at senior levels. Catalyst research on women demonstrates that lack of access to networks of influential colleagues is a primary barrier to the advancement of women, particularly to women of color, and a major reason why African-American women, Asian women, and Latinas represent only 0.9 percent, 0.4 percent, and 0.3 percent, respectively, of corporate officers in the Fortune 500.

“To break through the ‘concrete ceiling,’ women of color must establish varied informal networks,” said Katherine Giscombe, Ph.D., Catalyst Research Director and author of the study. “But this is a shared responsibility. CEOs and senior leaders can confront barriers head-on and ensure women of color have access to networks that are so crucial to advancement. This is particularly important in today’s global marketplace, where leveraging all talent is a strategic business imperative.” 

Connections That Count established that, for Asian and African-American women, the results of their networking strategies predicted their promotion rates. However, the study found no direct link between the networking strategies used by Latinas and their promotion rates. Among Latinas and African-American women, those with more colleagues in their networks were more likely to feel committed to their organizations. 

The study examined two primary networking strategies: “blending in” and “sticking together.” The blending in strategy encourages women of color to form relationships with those who have power in their organizations—typically white males—and is used most commonly by Asian women. The sticking together strategy encourages women of color to develop networks with those who are similar—especially racially or ethnically similar—and is used most commonly by African-American women. The study found that Latinas tend to follow a combination of the blending in and sticking together strategies, seeking high numbers of whites, but also mainly women in their networks. 

The study recommends that organizations proactively create more formalized mentoring and networking programs that would facilitate contacts between women of color and key influential leaders and enable companies to develop and advance a greater portion of this vital talent pool. Among the key recommendations for CEOs and managers, as well as Human Resources executives are:

  • Facilitate contacts between women of color and key influential leaders within a company.
  • Institute or expand formal networks to decrease workplace exclusion.
  • Ensure that women’s networks are inclusive to women of color.
  • Conduct rigorous assessments of the success of networks.
  • Institute programs that increase contact among employees of different levels, such as mentoring or “buddy” programs.

Credit Suisse, DaimlerChrysler, and IBM are the sponsors of Connections That Count: The Informal Networks of Women of Color in the United States.

FULL REPORT AVAILABLE AT www.catalyst.org.

About Catalyst
Catalyst is the leading research and advisory services organization working with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work. As an independent, nonprofit membership organization, it conducts research on all aspects of women’s career advancement and provides strategic and web-based consulting services globally. With the support and confidence of member corporations and firms, Catalyst remains connected to business and its changing needs. In addition, Catalyst honors exemplary business initiatives that promote women’s leadership with the annual Catalyst Award. With offices in New York, San Jose, and Toronto, Catalyst is consistently ranked No. 1 among U.S. nonprofits focused on women’s issues by The American Institute of Philanthropy.