Women CEOs say ability to build, maintain and use social capital helped them advance

Women could progress further in their careers if they had a better understanding of how to use their social capital to reach the top, according to a report from the British Psychological Society (BPS). 

The findings, presented at the BPS’ Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Nottingham, showed that women who held chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director (MD) positions believe their ability to build, maintain and use social capital had helped them progress. 

All of the participants said they believed women generally lacked the ability to build, maintain and use their social capital, which includes expanding your professional contacts and networking. 

Report author, Natasha Abajian, a postgraduate student at City University London, said: “Access to social networks typically differs for men and for women. Usually women have less access to networks associated with career progression. These networks or ‘who you know and who knows you’ are responsible for a large percentage of career progression, so limited access could be a barrier to women's opportunities.”

She added that the participants in the study had acted in a "non-stereotypical manner" and succeeded in being appointed MD/CEO. 

"Women who want to progress to the highest levels need to be aware of the value of social capital and know how to use this to their advantage,” she said. 

These findings come in the wake of the Davies review, which set a target for FTSE 100 firms to have 33 per cent female board members by 2020. 

The review found FTSE 100 companies have already exceeded the voluntary target previously set for 2015 of having 25 per cent women on their boards. This more than double the number of women in boardroom posts from 2011 when just 12.5 per cent of board members were women. 

Despite this progress, a government consultation, called Closing the Gender Pay Gap, which closed in September 2015, revealed women in the UK still earn an average of 19.1 per cent less than men. 

Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, a clause which has never been enacted, is now expected to come into force in Spring 2016 requiring employers with more than 250 employees to publish information about the amounts they pay female and male staff. 

Abajian noted that women still had some way to go to achieve equality in the workplace. “It’s interesting to examine the perspectives of women who have broken through the 'glass ceiling'. However, I believe this phrase, by depicting a single obstacle at a high level, fails to account for the subtle inequalities that arise throughout a career journey."