A recent survey of over 240 professionals carried out by law firm Trowers & Hamlins, together with executive search firm fdu group, has shown that whilst men and women both consider networking to be important to their careers, women over the age of 35 are networking considerably less often than their male counterparts.

When asked whether networking was important to their careers, an overwhelming 84% of all respondents agreed that it is. An even higher number of women – 87% – indicated that networking is important

But despite the relative importance the women in the survey placed on networking, only 25% of those who responded said they network at least once a week, compared to 46% of male respondents. One in three (32%) women stated that they network less than once a month.

The lack of frequent networking by women does not appear to be for lack of opportunity, as the majority of female respondents – 65% – revealed that they felt they have enough opportunities to network.

Interestingly, the results showed that amongst 25-34 year olds, men and women network with nearly the same frequency.  29% of men in this age group network once a week or more, compared to 30% of women who are the same age range; similarly, 26% of the men said they network less than once a month, versus 30% of the women.

The differences between the sexes starts to emerge when examining those respondents in the 35+ age brackets – when the mid-point of one’s career begins. Men aged 35 and above were more than twice as likely to network frequently (once a week or more) than women in the same age group (56% vs. 23%).

There were also measureable differences between mothers and fathers who took part in the survey.  Just over half of fathers (51%) network frequently (once a week or more) compared to just under a quarter (24%) of mothers. Yet there was no significant difference in frequency of networking between women who have children and women who don’t (24% vs. 26%). Despite this, of those respondents who provided additional comments, many cited family commitments as a reason for networking less often.

Tania Tandon, employment partner at Trowers & Hamlins, commented: “The results show that women over 35 are networking much less often than men of the same age. Arguably, this is when they are most likely to be at a stage in their careers where they are on the cusp of advancing to senior and board-level positions. Therefore, it’s interesting to see a drop off in the frequency of their networking when men are increasing the frequency of their networking at the same stage. Networking is widely credited with helping people progress in their careers – and our research confirms its importance – yet men and women are making different choices during this crucial time in their careers.”

The Trowers & Hamlins survey also asked professionals about other aspects of networking including the types of events they attend, the times of day they go to networking events, and the kinds of venues they frequent when networking. Here the results were very even between the sexes and did not reveal any notable differences.

Tania Tandon added:  “We expected to find differences in where and how men and women network, but the results indicated that women were, for example, just as likely to network in bars as men and there were no strong preferences for single-sex networking events.

“The ‘old boys club’ is still often blamed for perpetuating the glass ceiling and hindering women’s progression to the most senior roles. But the professional women we surveyed appear just as likely as men to network at sporting events as conferences and seminars. There are, of course, several debates to be had about the reasons for women networking less when it arguably matters most, but what the results of this survey support is that whatever the reasons are, it is more about women and men, mothers and fathers making choices at what is perhaps a critical time in their careers than about established barriers and prejudices.”

The Trowers & Hamlins survey was conducted jointly with fdu group, the executive search, recruitment and support services firm dedicated to finance professionals.  It was open from mid-November to late December 2013.  Of the 243 UK-based respondents, 51% were male and 49% were female.  The majority (63%) described themselves as middle management, senior management, partner or board member, and 80% work in the private sector or professional services.  A full report will be published in early March 2014.