Knowledge Center

Connections that Count: The Informal Networks of Women of Color in the United States

Connections that Count: The Informal Networks of Women of Color in the United States is the second report in a series that examines barriers to women's advancement in the workplace.

Prior research by Catalyst reveals that a key barrier cited by women is lack of access to networks of influential colleagues. Influential colleagues are those who can, because of their level or power within the organization, connect women with information, resources, or other contacts that can help them advance in their careers. This issue is particularly pronounced for women of color, who face “double exclusion” in the workplace based on both their gender and race.

This study reveals that women of color are faced with different strategies to networking: “blending in” versus “sticking together.” The blending in strategy for formation of job-related informal networks encourages women of color to form relationships with those who have power in organizations, primarily those who are white and/or male. The sticking together strategy encourages women of color to seek informal networks made up of those similar to themselves, particularly those who are racially/ethnically similar.

Women of color groups take different approaches to informal networking. Asian women had the highest number of whites and men in their networks, representing a blending in strategy. Latinas had a high number of whites in their networks, representing a blending in strategy, but on average, more than one-half of their networks were female, which represents a sticking together strategy. African-American women had the highest number of other African-Americans in their networks, and also the highest concentration of women of their racial/ethnic group, which represents a sticking together strategy.

Among Latinas and African-American women, those with more company colleagues in their networks were more likely to feel committed to their organizations.

Having whites and colleagues in their networks was positively linked to promotion for Asian women, while having men in their networks was positively related to organizational commitment. However, going to whites and men for advice about the job does not necessarily mean that Asian women are completely accepted as insiders in corporate environments.

When African-American women succeed in the workplace, they appear to do so without being accepted as insiders. Having women, particularly other African-American women, in their networks was positively tied to promotion rates for African-American women.

Ideally, everyone should be able to choose from a wide range of networking opportunities. Women of color should not be limited to networking only with people of their own race or ethnicity, nor should they feel compelled to network exclusively with others in the work environment who do not share their cultural background.

The report provides recommendations to both business leaders and managers to create more inclusive cultures that facilitate interactions among the diversity of talent in organizations. Work environments need to be inclusive so women of color can contribute and participate fully in the work environment, and in turn be fully engaged, with the ability to access and leverage influential networks.

Most information in this report is based on secondary analysis of Catalyst's substantial Women of Color dataset. We conducted more than 50 focus groups and interviews, and collected survey data from 1,735 Hispanic, Asian, and African-American women professionals and managers in 30 Fortune 1000 companies. For this report, we also collected additional qualitative information on networking experiences from a small sample of women of color.

Sponsors: Credit Suisse; DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund; IBM Corporation