Do women empty the bank on their relationship capital?

I’ve been floating an idea recently about the concept of “relationship capital.” I honestly want to know if you think I’m nuts or if the idea resonates.

Let me start by explaining what I mean by “relationship capital” and what you do with it.

Someone, usually in a significantly more powerful/senior position to you, decides to put his reputation on the line for you.

For instance:

  • Hiring you when you don’t have the experience and/or someone else isn’t a fan.
  • Giving you opportunities to work on projects that are outside of your usual scope of responsibility.
  • Speaking on your behalf in a room that you’re not in.
  • Pushing someone forward rather than just opening the door.

This is beyond mentoring. This is someone making a bet; a bet on you and your future capabilities.

A fine example is when Marilyn Monroe demanded that Ella Fitzgerald be booked to sing at a large jazz club. If done, Marilyn would take a table front and center every night. Monroe’s superstar status would not only bring publicity and customers to the club but elevate Fitzgerald’s career.

Now that’s an impressive example of a woman using her relationship capital on another woman. We all know of Fitzgerald’s talent, so for Monroe to do this was a pretty good bet to make. But make it she did.

This anecdote got me thinking: Do women, in general, spend their relationship capital as much as men? I hate to say this ladies, but I’m not sure that we do. Do women mentor? Yes, absolutely. Have I seen women give phenomenal advice? All the time. Do women open their Rolodex to make connections? I’ve lost count of the example of this.

But put our reputation on the line, take a risk on someone that isn’t easily justifiable, just because you want it that way? I had a harder time coming up with as many examples of women spending their relationship capital as men.

Which begs the question – why is this so?

The easy answer is that men generally have more powerful positions and therefore can spend more liberally. Perhaps is it because I’ve spent more time in traditionally male-dominated workplaces, so maybe my experiences are limited and a little skewed.

Or is it practice taking the risk? Or confidence in your place at the table? Or believing you have relationship capital to spend to begin with? Maybe a combination of all of these things.

I opened this article with a question: Do you think I’m nuts or did this idea resonate with you?

I’m serious. I want to hear if you agree or if you think I’m missing something. And bonus, we all have relationship capital we can spend. It’s one of those accounts that weirdly gets bigger the more you spend it. So watch out bright, talented people – I have money in my pocket, and I’m itching to spend it!

Add your comments below …

4 thoughts on “Do women empty the bank on their relationship capital?

  1. I have always believed “risk takers” in business have realized success faster and at a more sustained rate. When those in power take on a “big bet” to advocate for someone, they show the courage and as you say relationship capital to hedge the bet. If you aren’t a risk taker you won’t be willing to extend relationship capital. I agree with your assumption. We need to teach courage in being a risk taker.

    1. Evamarie – my guess is you’ve never been shy of risk taking. As you know, one of my core messages is “be brave” because I get all this risk taking is scary. Now I’m wondering if the risk takers are talking about the results enough. Sponsoring someone is often an unspoken activity.

  2. Hi Joanna: A director on our Board sent me this article after some brainstorming we did about an upcoming panel we will be on in March.

    I think about this subject a lot – I suspect this is another area where women take fewer risks and demand less frequently than men. I have a hypothesis that if you look at travel & expense between men and women leaders, you may find more spending by men on discretionary items like team meetings, corporate apparel, etc.,—this isn’t about who is more careful with corporate dollars, but instead, it’s how women are careful to be extra perfect, maybe it’s even excessively careful. We filter our actions with a fine sieve in ways that the world of men wouldn’t contemplate. As a result, we start farther back. Let’s practice this risk taking more. Like men do. And let’s not push ourselves farther away from the starting line b:c we are perfectionists. And let’s be quick to forgive ourselves for failed risk taking and even quicker to learn and be more vulnerable and transparent about what we happened. And give credit to those who took that risk with you — you did have someone else involved, right? Even if it was to consult, brainstorm your decision. Then be brave and let the feedback roll in. It’ll make you stronger and taking feedback like a leader is an intimidating thing for someone witnessing it. Your power will only grow.

    A powerful woman’s act of vulnerability to take a risk, that engages others to be vulnerable with her, is a powerful thing.

    1. Brilliant. All of it. I’m also particularly curious about your comment about discretionary expenses. I was just talking about this with a colleague yesterday and intervened with a woman who paid for something that was CLEARLY something that should have been an expensable item. Would you be open to an interview so I can write a follow-up piece? If it’s a yes just shoot me a note on my contact me page. Thanks for sharing!

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