Online Participation: Shaping the Networks of Professional Women

Online Participation: Shaping the Networks of Professional Women

Helen Donelan (The Open University, UK), Clem Herman (The Open University, UK), Karen Kear (The Open University, UK) and Gill Kirkup (The Open University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch024
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Social interaction technologies present women with powerful tools to extend their network of professional contacts. This chapter considers the use of online networks by professional women, specifically those working in science, engineering, and technology, who may face particular barriers in advancing their careers; it explores the potential offered by online participation and interaction for overcoming these difficulties. Recent discussions about women’s networks and networking strategies are extended, and the authors investigate how these strategies are being affected by the growth and evolution of online social networking. Different approaches to online networking for career development are discussed, together with an examination of associated Internet and Web 2.0 technologies and the potential these approaches and tools present to women working in science, engineering, and technology.
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The challenges facing women working in professions (such as science, engineering and technology) are well documented (Bebbington, 2002; Fox & Anderson, 2004; Michie & Nelson, 2006). Issues such as “macho” workplace cultures, inflexible career paths and reward systems, and extreme work pressures are still a major contributor to the low entry and retention rates (Bebbington, 2002; Fox & Anderson, 2004; Hewlett et al., 2008). However, isolation and restricted opportunities for interacting with other professionals can exacerbate these problems. Inadequate social networks can limit progression opportunities (Kaplan & Niederman, 2006), provide access to too few role models and lead to isolation and insecurities (Hewlett et al., 2008; McCarthy, 2004). This chapter focuses on science, engineering and technology since the challenges facing women employed in these sectors are particularly prominent. However, the issues presented and patterns of online networking activity observed may also be pertinent in other male-dominated professions.

Different approaches to tackle the networking difficulties facing women are being used. One response has been the formation of women’s corporate, public or professional face-to-face networks (McCarthy, 2004; Singh, Vinnicombe, & Kumra, 2006). Professional networks aim to overcome organizational and social barriers that may be present and provide a platform for women to meet and share career development strategies. Features that these environments provide include support, extended access to female role models and contemporaries (Singh, Vinnicombe, & Kumra, 2006) and relationships fostered within a social atmosphere. However, to achieve work-life balance, time constraints are often in place and these can limit travel options and render some of these face-to-face networks inaccessible. Therefore, additional communication channels that facilitate interaction over long-distances and support asynchronous participation could be beneficial.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Networking: The process of maintaining ties with others in a social network and of generating new ties through contact with those people.

Online Network: A network of people connected primarily via information and communication technologies.

Career-Based Social Network Site: Social network site that allows individuals with career or business interests in common to form online connections.

Mailing List: A list of subscribers who are recipients of distributed e-mail messages on a particular topic.

Network: A set of relations or ties among people who have a common focus or goal.

Career Development: The professional growth of an individual through activities associated with career progression and satisfaction.

Social Network Site: A website that allows individuals to build a public profile, create online connections with other users of the site and extend their network through new associations.

Web Forum: A web site providing facilities for holding asynchronous discussions between individuals with some common interest.

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