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How 'weak ties' can help women get ahead at work

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Asian and Caucasian ethnicity women colleagues met in office hall chatting enjoy friendly warm conversation, multi-ethnic mates having informal talk drink tea or coffee take break distracted from work
Weak tie relationships give you a network of people to draw on for their expertise and opportunities. Photo: Getty

We know that having good connections with other people at work is important. Not only does it enable us to develop ideas, get advice and seek support when we need it, it also allows us to access job opportunities too. And while many of us are close with certain colleagues at work, the weaker relationships we create can be really valuable too — particularly for women.

The benefits of the weaker relationships we have were first explored by sociologist Mark Granovetter in his 1973 paper The Strength of Weak Ties. According to Granovetter, these weak ties — people who you know, but not all that well — allow us to access information we may not otherwise have access to. Stronger ties, on the other hand, are usually people who you are close to, and often already share the same information with.

“The thing about careers is you never quite know what support you are going to need or where your next opportunity might come from, so the more connections you have the greater the chance that you will know someone who can help you out,” says Laura Cloke, a career fulfilment coach.

“More than ever, women are taking charge of their careers, whether that is to go for a promotion, change sectors or develop a portfolio career, and the help from weak tie connections is key to success.”

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Weak tie connections are those people who you have worked with, but don’t have an in-depth relationship with. You might pass them in the kitchen and say hi, or have the occasional chat over Slack, but that’s about it.

“You often know them as being an expert for one or two key skills and the great thing about them is that you know each other a little bit, so any approach for help is coming from someone they already know,” Cloke explains.

“Weak tie connections also reflect the skills and expertise that you are known for and can help you to establish yourself as an expert in your field, as other people will see you as an ideal weak tie to approach for help in certain areas.”

Cultivating these weak ties helps you to put yourself in the right place at the right time and have a network of people to draw on for their expertise and opportunities. And considering the systemic disadvantages and biases women face in the workplace, including a gender gap in hiring and promotions, these connections are even more important.

“A frequent conversation with my coaching clients is asking them to think about the people they know who can support them in their career. It is often the weak tie relationships they have that help them with more specialist knowledge and connect them to opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise come across,” says Cloke.

“I worked with a client to define their next career move and find their ideal job. Once they had identified the role they wanted it was all about finding the right job and the role they got was from a weak tie connection. Their weak tie connection knew my client was looking for a new role and thought she would be perfect for a vacancy that had just come up and approached her to suggest she apply for the role.”

Another benefit of weak ties is that they require far less effort to maintain than strong ones. So how can you make the most of them?

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“Weak tie relationships don’t always have an immediate benefit, so building up and keeping track of your network of weak tie connections is key,” Cloke says. “Weak ties are particularly beneficial when people have moved on to other organisations, opening up new opportunities for you, so connecting on LinkedIn allows you to stay in touch.

“Making use of weak tie connections is all about identifying the skills, expertise or connections your network has that you can use to support you in your career, so when you need some help it is good to think back about who you have worked with that might be good to approach.”

Weak tie relationships are also mutually beneficial too, as an approach for help can often be reciprocated, Cloke adds. “Recently I was approached by a weak tie former colleague who has just moved into the coaching space,” she says. “I shared my experience as a coach with them, but they were also able to recommend a friend sign up to my newsletter and tell me about a coaching event that I wouldn’t otherwise have heard about.”