Chief’s Study Finds 80% of Women Leaders Use Networking to Drive Career Success

Women Executives Are Powerful Networkers, Using It to Break Into the C-suite, Gain Board Seats, and Win New Business

NEW YORK--()--Chief, a powerful community that connects and supports senior executive women, in collaboration with Morning Consult, today announced findings from a survey assessing how networking impacts women leaders’ careers. The survey of 751 women at and above management level in the U.S. reveals that networking not only plays a pivotal role in achieving nearly every career milestone — from securing a board seat to breaking into the C-suite — but also drives broader operational and revenue benefits for their organizations.

“We often hear the adage ‘women are bad at networking.’ The results of our study reinforce what we at Chief have heard from members across our community — support from a strong network is essential for women leaders,” said Carolyn Childers, Co-Founder and CEO of Chief. “We face gender-specific challenges that are both insidious and direct. The data shows that women leaders use networking to achieve their career aspirations, navigate challenges, and improve company performance. We’re also seeing a need for employers to take a more proactive role in supporting women’s career advancement.”

Networking Helps Women Advance in Their Careers and Improves Company Performance

Among all respondents, networking has had a demonstrated impact on career advancement. Specifically:

  • More than 80% of professional women at the manager level and above report using networking to advance their careers including joining a board (90%), breaking into the C-suite (84%), and accepting new jobs with better pay (81%).

Beyond career achievements, networking has helped women in leadership navigate the complex challenges of today’s business environment. Specifically:

  • More than 70% have used networking to achieve organizational goals such as winning new business (85%), implementing new frameworks or models (84%), leading successful projects (82%), improving processes (76%), and saving money for their team or organization (74%).

Senior Executive Women Are Power Networkers

Although past research has propagated the idea that networking is easier and more beneficial for men, the overwhelming majority of women leaders are confident in the power of their networks (94%) and their ability to forge new connections (91%). There are, however, significant differences by seniority level. Specifically:

  • C-suite and VP-level women are more than twice as likely than managers or directors (63% vs. 29%) to report strong satisfaction with the support they receive from their networks, which are also more diverse and powerful.

This difference might be because C-suite and VP-level executives touch base more often. Specifically:

  • Senior executives are 18 percentage points more likely (62%) than managers and directors (44%) to engage with their networks at least weekly, with about 1/3 (32%) engaging with their networks every day. In contrast, about 1/4 of the mid-management cohort (28%) engage with their networks only as needed.

Another difference is executive women are proactive in seeking out purposeful networking opportunities, rather than relying mainly on meeting connections at work. Specifically:

  • Women at the VP level and above are more likely than managers and directors to build their networks through intentional opportunities such as cross-industry networking groups (16 percentage points more likely), events (12 percentage points more likely), and industry-specific networking groups (11 percentage points more likely).
  • In contrast, managers and directors are more likely than senior executives to make connections through their current employers (27 percentage points more likely) and past companies (13 percentage points more likely).

Mentorship Is Critical for Women Leaders — Yet Rare

Less than 1/3 of women leaders (32%) have a mentor, yet those who do have a mentor experience significant career benefits. Specifically:

  • 42% of women leaders who reach the C-suite have a mentor compared to just 26% of those who do not.

Having a mentor doubled the likelihood that a woman leader gained a board seat within the past five years. Specifically:

  • 15% of women with mentors did, compared to 7% of those without mentors.
  • Women with mentors are 10 percentage points more likely to report achievements such as being promoted, improving processes, and leading successful projects.
  • They are also more than three times as likely to have their own mentees (30% of them do), compared to women without mentors (9%).
  • So, it’s no surprise that a quarter of women leaders (23%) want more mentoring.

Networking Satisfaction Varies Across Intersectional Identities

From an intersectional perspective, leaders who identify as women of color are 19 percentage points more likely than White women to report strong satisfaction with their network’s ability to support their career needs and goals; 15 percentage points more likely to report strong satisfaction with their ability to build new network connections; and 18 percentage points more likely to have strong confidence in the power of their networks. This is likely because women of color face systemic barriers and must take a more intentional approach to building and sustaining their networks.

None of this means that networking is “easier” for intersectional women. Intersectional individuals are accustomed to working twice as hard to get half as far in their careers, and, unfortunately, this also applies to professional networking. There is much to be done when it comes to enabling effective networking — especially on the part of employers.

Meanwhile, women who identify as LGBTQIA+ are twice as likely to report struggling to build new networking connections compared to straight and cisgender women (17% vs. 9%). LGBTQIA+ women report a professional “inner circle,” meaning a tight-knit group of trusted contacts, is the number one thing that’s missing from their current networks and networking resources.

Employers Must Do More to Support Women’s Hybrid Networking Needs

While 64% of women leaders met the people in their networks through their current employer, 53% are not fully satisfied with the networking support they receive from their employers. More than a quarter of women at the manager level and above (28%) want more employer-sponsored networking events.

After the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the workplace into a hybrid world, it’s unsurprising that women leaders want both in-person and online opportunities. In-person networking is at the top of women leaders’ wishlists, with nearly 1/3 (32%) wanting more of it. On the digital side, a quarter of women (25%) at the manager level and above want more virtual networking events.

According to survey respondents, the top networking methods that add the most value are:

  • Networking events (93% find them valuable for career advancement),
  • Professional networking groups (93%),
  • Conferences (91%) and industry or professional associations (89%),
  • Employer-sponsored events (93%), and
  • Keeping in touch through calls, emails, and texts (89%).

To review the full report and for tips on how companies can enhance women’s networking opportunities and outcomes, view Chief: The Network Effect study here.

About Chief

Chief is a powerful community that connects and supports senior executive women. Launched in 2019, Chief’s mission is to change the face of leadership. Chief has been recognized as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, and its community includes 20,000 executive members across the U.S. and U.K. Learn more at