by Alexandra Singer

The issue of homosociality is an ever-growing matter – in the social, professional and educational sense. But what exactly do we mean, when we talk about homosociality? How does it affect the occupational sector and what is important for me to know as a leader? Recruiting and Female Leadership Expert Alexandra Singer was so kind and took the time for a detailed and very informative interview.

What is homosociality? 

Alexandra: Homosociality is the human phenomenon that people like to be surrounded by others who are very much like themselves. In their reflection, they find safety and belonging. The basic research about homosociality comes from pedagogy and developmental psychology. Researchers noticed: Teachers and children are looking for more frequent contact with people who are similar to them: similar in age, gender, language, and origin. What seems “normal” at the first glance gets a challenging nuance when we see: Instead of opening up minds in a key development phase, the over-presence of homosocial contact can decrease world views.
Needless to say: This principle also has the same effect in corporate life. If we hire the same people and talk with the same people about the same things all the time, we’re exactly the opposite of diversity. We get teams full of the “same” people – and boards wonder why no new ideas emerge!

How does homosociality appear in leadership & recruiting

Alexandra: Where should I start?!? One prominent example went through the media: More men named Thomas than women at all at the management level. The superficial justification of the German company: the team should be smaller and more powerful. But what is actually there are eight West German men, five of them engineers in their mid-fifties, two named Thomas, and one woman. Bye bye diversity.

But there is more: A coachee of mine, a 42-year-old woman is getting prepared for an extremely important position in a company with a really good salary. Of course, she’d still like to negotiate the salary so they can see she can handle tough situations and huge sums. So what happens? She encounters resistance – from the woman around! Why? Well, they all had trouble getting into the positions they are in now. And we see that very often: Women copy men to get into powerful positions: their leadership styles, way of communication, even their dress code. They adjust to having a chance and sometimes over-adjust until their very own style isn’t even detectable anymore. And when confronted with a new generation of women, who approach things differently – for example with a feminine self-confidence and lively awareness of their womanhood – they reject them and stand in the way. “I had to do it that way. They should do it as well”. How we view ourselves and what we think is necessary to come into power positions has also a lot to do with homosociality. For corporates, interesting questions are: How many different people do we have at the top? What is necessary to be able to have success in our organization? What do we say to each other and think quietly when someone different enters the stage? I would love to see more of these questions in our organizations. I believe that would already be a good important step on the way to more diversity and better chances for women.

3 ideas to decrease negative forms of homosociality in teams and organizations 

Alexandra: Often I get asked: What can we do to decrease the negative effects of homosociality, boost diversity and open up chances for talent instead of certain types of people?   

Well, three ideas:   

1) Awareness  

Look around you and start to see! Get aware of your current people structures. Get aware of what happens in your recruiting processes. Especially when it comes to female recruiting, we need to get people out of their biases and make them aware of things like “Have you noticed that our teams are very homogeneous? Who is leading the recruiting process and whom are we likely to attract?“ And yes, this can be very unpleasant.   

2) Mix, mix, mix  

Another idea is to work across units, departments, and even locations, if possible. We need projects and teams where people are taken because of their expertise, regardless of hierarchy, regardless of their position. People will talk about such projects, especially if this way to work is relatively new. And so it can spread throughout the organization since processes are very lively. Every process and every tiny decision always influences the whole. We know that from systemic theory. And you can use it to favour or combat homosociality.  

3) Risk to succeed 

But what if we fail, what if taking the women, and doing the cross-department project is going wrong? What if they can’t handle it? Well, what if they can? After all, the risk isn’t as big as we tend to think and putting a woman into a management position has nothing to do with courage! It’s a calculation. Going new paths, taking the female candidate no one would have guessed always has a 50-50 risk of success. You have that the “logical” male choice too. Additionally, the risk is also fifty-fifty and it will be much better than before. The question is:  

Do you risk succeeding by going new paths?

Mag.a Alexandra Singer

The whole is more than the sum of all its individual parts! Systemic resource-oriented process support is the methodical approach of our consultations with a focus on recruiting, employer branding, diversity and personnel marketing. We give you impulses on how you can better recruit, communicate and perform your organizations and your teams. Tailor-made and guaranteed to be successful.

Alexandra Singer, Job Affairs