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Women’s Networks and the Emergence of Leadership

March 7, 2013
By Maria Minniti
With a strong professional network, a woman is better able to prosper in her field and expand her influence.

The development of networks and the presence of role models lead organically to the emergence of leaders: individuals who not only become visible in public life but are also able to influence it and change it. Of course, the criteria by which a community grants leadership status are shaped by culturally available ideologies about what it means to be a leader. In most cultures, this is associated with features such as the ability to be decisive, assertive, and independent, characteristics that are usually associated with men (Bailyn 2006, Dennis and Kunkel 2004). By contrast, women are thought to be better suited to be leaders with respect to children or other situations in which patience and nurturing are seen as being more important (Fletcher 2004, Giscombe and Mattis 2002). While these are certainly important tasks, they are often perceived as somewhat inconsistent with leadership roles in public life. Networks, on the other hand, provide scope and support for the development of leadership characteristics.

As a result of women’s tendency to exhibit limited mobility, and human beings’ heavy reliance on social cues, the emergence of social capital conducive to women’s participation in public life and of female leadership (in all its forms) is particularly dependent on the creation of strong networks that increase the number of female role models. Thus, the creation of networks is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the participation of women in public life.