8.5 Social Network and Prosocial Work Behavior of Men and Women

Project info

Aim of the project This project examines how social networks for men and women relate to cooperative and uncooperative behavior at work leading to profitable career outcomes for individuals, and stable, efficient work teams.
Project start
End date
Behavioral theory
  • Identities
  • Networks
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
  • Public Policy
  • Sociology
  • Economics
  • Employers’ organizations
  • Governmental policymakers
  • HR managers
  • Managers
  • Organisation science
  • Policy advisors
  • Social psychology
  • Sociology
Work package
  • Work
Sustainability threat
  • Spillovers
  • Dealing with diversity
  • Network co-evolution
  • Reconfiguring-roles-and-relationships
Theoretical background
In our present day and age, women still lag behind men in their occupational career. One of the reasons being that women are less able than men to profit from their social networks at work. Two mechanisms have been shown to influence how womens’ on-the-job networks of women may undermine their careers: both the ‘quality’ of on the job contacts lags behind that of their male counterparts, as does the profit men and women are able to take away from these contacts. The networks of men and women at work differ in quality of the contacts, as both genders tend to have networks that comprise of mainly same gender co-workers. Since male co-workers more often occupy managerial positions, women may profit less from their work networks. Furthermore, even when women invest in high quality work networks, they tend to receive smaller returns on this social capital (Son & Lin, 2012). Women’s attempts to become part of the networks of male co-workers may also face sanctions from female co-workers who question their loyalty to their own gender group (Ibarra, 1993). Conversely, men may sometimes exclude women from their networks (or include them less). This project addresses with whom and why men and women cooperate and with whom and why they have conflicts. Both psychological and sociological perspectives are taken into account in order to explain key characteristics of on-the-job networks of female and male employees, and how these networks influence their careers. Networks at work can offer advice, task support and information, as well as emotional or social support. However, on-the-job networks are not merely sources of support, but they may also be a source of conflicts and for relationships to turn sour. One hypothesis to be explored in this project is that on-the-job networks providing inclusive identities might benefit women more than men, although evidence is inconclusive. Some studies suggest that the network structures that benefit men and women are different. For instance, Burt (1998) argued that only men profit from occupying so-called brokerage positions in sparse networks, and that women need sponsors in higher positions. However, in the movie industry it was shown that women’s careers profit from more open and diverse networks, whereas men do better in dense and cohesive networks (Lutter, 2015). We will study what the optimal team looks like for both men and women, how institutional variables (like gender imbalance and masculine work domain) affect both the composition as well as the returns of the networks of male and female employees and which networks offer them optimal opportunities to realise their ambitions.
Research design
Firstly, the project will use the European Sustainable Workforce Survey (ESWS). The ESWS is unique because (a) it is a recent, large-scale survey among 11,011 employees (wave 1/2016 and wave 2/2018) nested in 869 teams in 259 organisations in 9 European countries (UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Bulgaria), (b) contains longitudinal information about cooperation and work career of the employee (c) has detailed information on formal and informal contacts within the work team and conflict between colleagues, and (d) contains information about institutional variables that may predict network composition. Also managers provide information about cooperation and conflict in their teams. To better understand conflict and cooperation at the workplace, we also undertake a field experiment in one or two firms to gain more insight in contacts in teams and differences therein between men and women.
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