I’ve held for a long time that whenever someone says “we’d like to hire women but we don’t know any” or “we really want women as speakers on our event but we don’t know any and if we do they say no”, it is really down to the lack of quality and balance in their network of contacts. When I organised international conferences myself, with our team we made sure to invite speakers while conscious of the lopsidedness of our own networks, overcompensating in our invitations to get a result closer to a 50/50 balance. Now that my company is hiring new people every now and then, that too is an opportunity to counteract such imbalance.

Last week I wrote about ‘homebrew CRM‘, in which I mentioned Rick Klau’s post on his contact management routines. One element that jumped out when I was reading his post was that he had taken a look at his contact lists to see how the men/women ratio was in his network. There’s nothing in LinkedIn that let’s you explore your contact list as a single data set. It’s only a rolodex still, no way to visualise the data in that list in any way (e.g. geographic or sectoral distribution, or other cross sections of the list). Rick mentioned he had downloaded all his LinkedIn data and all his Twitter data, and then used that data export to work on. I requested the same data from LinkedIn and Twitter.

It turns out that LinkedIn’s export contains a list of contact names (but not the link to their profiles, as that isn’t ‘your data’), and a key piece of information they normally don’t show you: the date you connected. (Interestingly LinkedIn offers you nothing to record the context and reason you connected. The Xing-platform, heavily used in Germany, does do that, and I find it very useful)

Having names and dates, I manually indicated someone’s gender, and then used the dates for basic insights into how my recorded network developed over time. (Typing this I realise I still have the export from Facebook when I deleted my original account 2 years ago, and I could do the same there)

For now I looked at two measures: the balance between women and men in contacts I added each year, and the balance between women and men in the total number of contacts each year. Currently I have some 2150 contacts, of which some 600 are women, for a percentage of 27%. That is significantly lower than I had intuited. I think such overestimation is a known effect.

Looked at per year for the contacts added that year, the balance over time has improved from 10% in 2003, to between a third and 40% in the last handful of years. That last number is in line with the overall percentage I had intuited, so apparently I am using my perception of recent years as the estimate for the entire period. That low 2003 starting percentage has a lot to do I think with the general imbalance of the early adopter crowd that came into LinkedIn when they launched in May 2003 (I joined in June ’03) and the low number of people I connected to those first months on the platform (11 in 6 months).

Getting closer to a 50/50 balance on LinkedIn isn’t completely within my control I realise (unlike in my feed reading), as it also depends on who I actually meet in my work, and each working environment has its own existing gender distribution. It is also not completely outside my control. There is agency in new situations and contexts, such as whom I seek out for conversation when participating in an event. Yet, getting to a 50/50 balance for the total would mean connecting only to women for a few years, adding about a 1000 new contacts that way. History does keep one back clearly.

cummulative per year

new contacts added per year

One reaction on “My LinkedIn Network and its Gender Balance

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