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Conference Proceeding

Befriend thy neighbor: Office seating, social networks, and gender

Academy of Management Proceedings 2022 (1)
2022 Academy of Management Proceedings "Best Paper"
Human resources management/organizational behavior; Strategy and general management
office design, gender, networks, field experiment
Within organizations, women remain to this day underrepresented in leadership roles. One key explanation for this focuses on differences in the way men and women socialize at the office and build professional network. Women’s networks are less likely to afford them early access to important and diverse information that would benefit their careers. In this paper, I investigate office spatial design as a managerial lever to shape employee networks, and its differential impact on male and female employees. Further, I study gender differences in the relationship between proximity in an office space, network tie formation, and network brokerage. Seating assignments that closely match the organization’s functional groupings add spatial segregation to the pre-existing occupational segregation between men and women. I argue that breaking functional silos in seating assignments can allow women, to a larger extent than men, to diversify their ties and to access more advantageous network positions. I use data from a quasi-field experiment where the seating plan of a Mexican company’s headquarters was manipulated with the aim to decrease work-interdependence between office neighbors. Following the office reconfiguration, I find that female employees are more likely than male employees to form friendship ties with their new desk neighbors and that women’s friendship networks are more likely to become more brokerage-rich. I also find evidence that women whose networks see an increase of brokerage following the reconfiguration tend to see their wage increase.
With permission of the Academy of Management
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