As the old adage goes, it's not what you know, but who you know. New research proves the axiom to be true, but only if you're a man. That's the finding of a study from North Carolina State University that finds that men benefit significantly more from career networking.
"The study finds that work experience is important, in large part because it helps us develop social connections that can help people learn about future job opportunities," said Steve McDonald, an assistant professor of sociology at NC State and author of a paper describing the study. "However, while men reap the social benefits of work experience, women do not."
McDonald studied more than 12,000 people to examine the role work experience plays when people find new jobs using their social connections. He found that men who had lots of specialized work experience were often recruited into a new job through their social contacts without having to look for a job. In fact, men with this kind of experience were 12 percent more likely to find a new job through informal career recruitment than they were through a formal job search.
Women, however, did not see this benefit. They were no more likely to find a job through informal recruitment than they were through a formal job search.
"Previously, researchers have argued that women face lower-wage payoffs than men with similar work experience because the women have fewer opportunities to develop job skills," McDonald said. "But this study suggests that a lack of useful social connections may also be driving the gender wage gap."
This gender disparity is especially problematic for women who are vying for high-wage, managerial jobs — because these positions are often filled through the informal recruiting process that appears to favor men. "As a result," McDonald said, "the more that can be done to institute formal hiring practices, the closer we will be to an equitable job market."
McDonald said he doesn't know why women would not reap the same benefit as men when it comes to career networking.
"We need to learn more about exactly why women don't get the same benefits from their social connections that men do," McDonald says. "But right now, we just don't have the long-term data we need on these social networks to fully understand this phenomenon."
The paper, "What You Know or Who You Know?: Occupation-Specific Work Experience and Job Matching Through Social Networks," will appear in the journal Social Science Research. The research was supported by a grant from NC State's College of Humanities and Social Sciences.