Social Interaction Technologies: A Case Study of Guanxi and Women Managers' Careers in Information Technology in China

Social Interaction Technologies: A Case Study of Guanxi and Women Managers' Careers in Information Technology in China

Jiehua Huang (Guangzhou University, China and Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland) and Iiris Aaltio (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch023
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This chapter explores a relationship between social interaction technologies (SIT) and guanxi, a major Chinese informal style of networking, in the context of the careers of women managers in the information technology (IT) field in China. Addressing women’s under-representation in non-traditional occupations (such as IT), prior research has established that networking, especially informal, is an important career management tool for women. Recent advances in social capital theory and social network analysis provide a framework for understanding the role of social processes in achieving career success. Today, the growing web-based social and professional networking in China weighs against the traditional forms of relationships, such as personal networks based on guanxi. The study indicates that SIT and guanxi should be viewed as complementary rather than mutually exclusive influences.
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Careers are a window to a network of values of the institutions where they are actually made. Recent advances in social capital theory have helped analyze the ways in which the social networks of individuals affect their careers in organizations (Burt, 1997; Coleman, 1990; Ibarra, 1995; Kanter, 1977; Lin, 1999; Podolny & Baron, 1997). This theoretical background provides scholars with knowledge for understanding the role of social processes in career success. Information technology (IT) and information and communication technology (ICT) refer to an industry that broadly covers the technologies of information and communication. In China, as in other countries around the world, more and more women are today working in this field as managers—although only a few at the top level (Aaltio & Huang, 2007). Ahuja (2002) stated that the barriers to female positioning in the IT industry are due to an “old boys network”—a large pool of more qualified and experienced male professionals, the lack of female role models and mentors, and established discriminatory practices. Kaplan and Niederman (2006) argued that inadequate social networks, skill obsolescence and limited vertical/internal job mobility present challenges to the career success of women in IT. In contrast, women who have more demographically diverse networks generally experience greater levels of career success (Cox, 1994; Ely, 1994; Ibarra, 1995). A lack of social networks and role models has been related to women’s under-representation in the field of IT.

Social relations and ties between actors characterize today’s business culture. As expected, prosperity and social capital cumulate in the interplay between human partners and organizations (Bourdieu, 2005). There is a trend to understand business life more as a product of collective and shared interactions than separate individual efforts. This collectivity is not universal by nature but has country-specific and local features. Recently, guanxi, a major Chinese networking style, has been receiving a heightened research interest in the Western management field, with a major expansion in the literature on the growing importance of networks, networking, and network organizations (Puhakka, 2002; Steier & Greenwood, 2000; Tallberg, 2004; Wellman, Chen, & Dong, 2002). This is partly driven by the continuing and changing impact of ICT and the technological and social aspects of networking through them (Wellman, 2001). The very nature of ICT, incorporating both information and communication technologies, reflects how computers, communication, and social networks have become intertwined in people’s everyday life. This is also in line with the argument according to which networks have a positive impact on entrepreneurial success (Puhakka, 2002; Steier & Greenwood, 2000). Leung (2000) points out that gender issues and Chinese cultural traditions, such as guanxi, are major factors influencing career development and managerial growth in China.

The development of Internet-based social networking sites have advanced social interaction, collaboration, and sharing of information (Boase & Wellman, 2006; Kavanaugh, Reese, Carroll, & Rosson, 2005), which weigh against the traditional forms of relationships—the social network and guanxi. According to Barry Wellman and collegues (2002), guanxi can be studied with a social network approach. According to social network analysis (SNA), Internet-based social networking enlarges people’s weak ties, which are different from the strong ties in guanxi and are essential to the effective spread of information between people in separate clusters (Burt, 1992; Granovetter, 1973; Wellman, Chen & Dong, 2002). From this perspective, SIT should enhance women’s networks and, therefore, benefit women IT managers’ career development.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gender: Refers to the cultural construction of femininity and masculinity.

Career: Consists of the sequential choices made by an individual, and is a development process of creating and managing a professional identity and personality.

Guanxi Base: Defined as a shared common identification held by two or more persons.

Social Network: Refers to a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency (such as values, visions, exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, trade, or sexual relations).

Culture: A process of constructing shared meaning and is based on a unique human capacity for self-consciousness and awareness of others.

Guanxi: a central concept in Chinese society, is defined as a personal network, a network of ties, or as a special relationship between two or more individuals, which has wide cultural implications

Social Network Analysis (SNA): Views the attributes of individuals as less important than their relationships and ties with other actors within the social network. SNA has turned out to be useful for explaining many real-world phenomena, but it leaves less room for individual agency. It provides both a visual and a mathematical analysis of human relationships.

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