Instructively, one of the most powerful voices for closing the gender gap is Zuckerberg’s colleague and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. She’s seen the power of networks firsthand. And part of her “lean in” strategy is for women to more vigorously pursue new professional ties.
A strong social network also generates manifold “soft” benefits, chiefly increased self-confidence and a sense of self-efficacy. Both are vital emotional resources for entrepreneurship. Indeed, work released last year by the Netherlands’ University of Rotterdam finds a strong correlation between self-reported confidence in skills and the likelihood of starting a business.
Yet that Rotterdam assessment also found that women have significantly lower self-reported confidence in business skills than men. That means women are less likely to start their own businesses, seek higher wages at their current job, or try to switch to a better position at a different company.
A lack of strong networks isn’t confined to women in the lower rungs of the economic order. Indeed, the George W. Bush Institute recently held an African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Among the attendees was Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni. She explicitly mentioned that before the event, she had been largely unaware of all the great work being done by her counterparts across the continent. Even a woman of Museveni’s position recognizes the need to learn from her network.
The reasons for the size-of-network gender gap in the developing world are manifold. One powerful explanation comes from London School of Economics professor Satoshi Kanazawa. She has found that women spend less time socializing outside their immediate friends and family because they carry a disproportionate share of household responsibilities, leaving them less time for cultivating potential business partnerships.
We need to work to close this gap and empower low-income women to reach their full potential.