Leeds Business School

The time is now for women’s networking: A comment and a call for action during International Women’s Day

Networking has historically been recognised as a masculine practice with men working and women staying at home. In this post on International Women's Day<, Dr Martina Topić explores why the time is now for women's networking.

Image of student in the library reading on her iPad

This meant men creating a work-first attitude and implementing socialising with clients after work to increase new business. Some authors have argued that “… there was never a question that women would be able to move up the company ladder in the way men could, since it remained unfathomable for male executives to place women alongside them in managerial jobs (…) Men were allowed to think of themselves as middle-class so long as women, from their perspective, remained something like the office proletariat” (Saval, 2015, p. 77-78). This is, in many ways, also linked to networking which leaves many women behind due to social expectations that women will look after families.

Studies in public relations, advertising and media industries I conducted over the last few years have shown that networking is a part of work requirement, so embedded in work expectations that many women no longer challenge it. However, many also reported sexual harassment and unwanted advances by clients and male bosses in these informal events (Topić, 2021, 2020, 2020a, 2020b), thus showing that women often remain in the domain of the office proletariat. A further study, based on four decades of literature (mostly done on practitioners) I conducted as part of the #WECAN project further showed that throughout decades networking is entrenched in boys clubs that take men ahead whereas women are excluded or not treated equally. When women do form networks, they are rarely as successful as men’s ones due to also the lack of women in the position of power to network with. However, studies also show that women do not like vertical networking with people in power, but prefer to network horizontally, form bonds and relationships and seek a safe environment and emotional support (Topić et al, 2021).

The question then emerges, what can be done if women cannot effectively network or do not want to because of social expectations imposed on them to look after families?

One effective way of networking is forming book clubs during office hours, which provides a safe space, bonding experience and does not interfere with family obligations. In two studies in 2014 and 2015, book club participants reported these spaces as “an alternative space for networking”, which does not revolve around “sports or after-work drinking” which many women find very masculine, off-putting or non-accessible (Alsop, 2015) and some women also reported book discussions as very constructive rather than combative (Macoun & Miller, 2014).

Therefore, as part of the #WECAN project, I formed a book club with Dr Karen Trem, Dr Joy Ogbemudia, Catherine Glaister, Christine Carbery and Sallyann Halliday. We created a safe and supportive space where we discuss books, and these discussions often turn into discussing our lived experiences, so we also became work friends. This form of networking resulted in research because we wrote reflective diaries and are writing a journal paper and we brainstormed many projects and publication ideas. Thus, the book club turned into not just a bonding and supportive experience but also something that advances our publications and careers.

A book club is one way for women to start networking and even if they cannot advance directly as a result of this networking (e.g. by becoming a friend with a person in power and then getting appointed to a managerial position, which is how men usually network), they can advance their CVs through fostering collaboration and thus become employees that cannot be ignored anymore. And, perhaps even more importantly, they can also create support networks and make friends, further improving their mental health and wellbeing. The time is now for women to unite, network in a way that suits their needs and preferences and go ahead and smash that glass ceiling!

If you decide to form a book club after reading this blog post, I would love to hear about your experiences. Connect with me via LinkedIn.


  • Alsop, R. (2015). A novel alternative. Book groups, women, and workplace networking. Women's Studies International Forum, 52, 30-38.
  • Macoun, A., & Miller, D. (2014). Surviving (thriving) in academia: feminist support networks and women ECRs. Journal of Gender Studies, 23(3), 287-301.
  • Saval, N. (2015). Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Anchor Books.
  • Topić, M., Carbery, C., Arrigoni, A., Clayton, T., Kyriakidou, N., Gatewood, C., Shafique, S., & Halliday, S. (2021). Women and Networking: A Systematic Literature Review (1985-2021). #WECAN report. Leeds: Leeds Beckett University. https://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/id/eprint/7951/1/WomenAndNetworkingLiteratureReviewAM-TOPIC.pdf
  • Topić, M. (2021). Fluffy PR and ‘Comms Girls’: Banter, Social Interactions and the Office Culture in Public Relations in England. International Journal of Organizational Analysis. Online First: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJOA-09-2020-2423/full/html
  • Topić, M. (2020). Two Englands? Blokishness, Masculine Habitus and the North-South Divide in the Advertising Industry. Gender in Management: An International Journal, 36(2), 205-220.
  • Topić, M. (2020a). ‘It’s something that you should go to HR about’ – Banter, Social Interactions and Career Barriers for Women in the Advertising Industry in England. Employee Relations. EarlyCite: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/ER-03-2020-0126/full/html
  • Topić, M. (2020b). Women in Public Relations in England. EUPRERA report Vol. 2, No.1. Leeds/Brussels: Creative Media and Communications Research Ltd & EUPRERA. Retrieved from https://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/id/eprint/6774/1/EUPRERAReportVol2No1PV-TOPIC.pdf

Dr Martina Topic

Reader / Leeds Business School

Dr Martina Topić is a behavioural sociologist and communications scholar studying wicked problems of social inequity historically and at present, she is a Reader at Leeds Business School.

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