This paper presents an integrative framework to clarify how and why gender and networks—in concert—may explain career inequality. The authors delineate two distinct, complementary explanations: (1) unequal network characteristics asserts that men and women have different network characteristics, which account for differences in career success; (2) unequal network returns asserts that even when men and women have the same network characteristics, they yield different degrees of career success.

The researchers found that men’s and women’s networks are similar in structure (i.e., size, openness, closeness, contacts’ average and structural status) but differ in composition (i.e., proportion of men, same-gender, and kin contacts). Guidance to organizations aiming to address inequality resulting from gender differences in network creation and utilization are discussed.

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  • Jean Leslie Director, Strategic Initiatives & Senior Fellow, Americas