It may not be sexism that keeps more women from top jobs, it may be less understanding of the role of social capital in reaching the top, according to graduate student Natasha Abajian of City University London at the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Nottingham.

The conclusion came after interviews with 12 women employed as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Managing Director (MD) in the communications industry, to explore their perceptions of social capital and how much they believed it was instrumental in helping their careers. 

The results showed that the women perceived their social capital to have contributed to their appointments but they didn't think other women were using it properly. All of the participating women reported that other women generally lacked the ability, knowledge or opportunity to accrue or use their social capital in the context of senior-level promotion. 

"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," Abajian
says. "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. 

"The continual use of this metaphor may encourage women to behave in a stereotypical gendered way rather than challenging the status quo. The participants in this study acted in a non-stereotypical manner and they 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."

Source: British Psychological Society