A Static Network Can Be Dangerous To Your Career

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They say it's good to have friends in high places. And yet many on Wall Street - particularly women and minorities - spend most of their time with people just like themselves.

They lunch with them, socialize with them, and generally spend their time and energy networking with them rather than forging bonds with upper management. Not only are they failing to make friends in high places. They're actually inhibiting their growth potential at their company.

Mentoring is an important key to success, career professionals say. At some financial services firms, staffers actually need a mentor to move on to the next level, someone in their corner who thinks they're good enough to shepherd through the promotions process.

Networking with peers rather than higher-ups is more than simply a series of lost opportunities: It can hurt you if managers think you're breeding contempt in the office. Maria Mulqueen, who has worked in the IT departments of several financial services firms, says women sometimes believe they're the victims of sexism in the workplace, and complain to each other about it. In doing so, they create what she calls the "henhouse effect." Whether their bosses' initial actions were sexist are not becomes moot as they create an environment buzzing with acrimony and ill will. "You walk in the room, and you can tell they were just talking about you," she says. And no boss is going to respond well to that.

That kind of behavior simply doesn't happen at the management level, particularly among minorities, recruiters say. Unfortunately, the main reason is there aren't a lot of other minorities at the senior level for managers to hang out with, says Jay Gaines, president of a New York-based recruiting firm that bears his name. "The minority individuals we see at a senior level are pretty well integrated into their management teams," he observes.

The same can be said about women, says Deborah Rivera, founder of New York-based alternative-investment recruiter The Succession Group. "They socialize less with peers as they move up the ranks, perhaps because of personal obligations or perhaps because they feel they have to put in more hours," Rivera says.

Some pooh-pooh the notion that women and minorities hold themselves back by fraternizing with each other. Plenty of men who work in back-office jobs or technology hang around together, says the former head of trading at a brokerage house. The people who get promoted are those who have the credentials to make it to the next step, and sadly, some women and minorities simply aren't qualified for those higher-level jobs, he contends.

"I don't think it is a women or minority thing. It's the capitalist caste system," he says. "Some of them are in those jobs because they are qualified to do them and not qualified to be traders or brokers or analysts."

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