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Star Power – Is It Portable?


Harvard Business Review OnPoint’s Summer 2015 issue includes an article on “How Star Women Build Portable Skills” suggesting that women, in their efforts to maneuver in a male oriented environment, actually build skills that are more portable than men. The research study was conducted on stock analysts starting several years back.

Strategy #1 – Build an external network

Female star analysts take their work environment more seriously yet rely on it less than male stars do. Their decision to maintain an external focus rested on four main factors:

  1. Uneasy in-house relationships: People are most comfortable forging relationships with those most like themselves.
  2. Poor mentorship: Most female analysts who become stars have had mentors. Those who did have mentors received less support from them than male stars did. They missed out on one of the most valuable services a mentor provides: access to a network of relationships.
  3. Neglect by colleagues: Locker-room and sports-bar cultures make it difficult for female analysts to forge strong bonds. Men gravitate to who they tend to think will be around…the men…they think women will leave when they marry or have kids.
  4. A vulnerable position in the labor market: Even female-friendly firms tend to lay off more women than men during economic conditions.

Strategy #2 – Scrutinize prospective employers

Men tend to concentrate on compensation. Women are more likely to weigh multiple considerations such as attitudes of the research director and the existence of female colleagues and role models. Women look at the culture of a department in terms of how women fit in along with its value, atmosphere, and tone.

Have things changed much? Awareness, maybe, resulting in a more concerted effort to develop and implement women’s initiatives within organizations. The HBR story line emphasized what can be learned from this study:

For employees, the decision to change jobs should be made strategically, not only with an eye toward promotions and raises, but also from an informed awareness of the new firm’s resources and culture.

For organizations, the focus should be on building talent from within and taking measures to retain the stars they create.

Balance internal and external relationships. Your life changes as you move up the ladder. To succeed you must develop peer relationships at the firm. That’s how things get done. That’s how trust evolves. Whether they are internal or external “trusted relationships” are the key.


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