Olsen and LaGree publish new research on professional relationships, consult industry on best practices

March 28, 2023

With mentorship at the forefront of ways managers can support early-career professionals in a variety of industries, new findings from assistant professors in the A.Q. Miller School of Media and Communication, Katie Olsen and Danielle LaGree, suggest that the focus should be on organization and industry-wide professional relationship development rather than formal mentoring programs.

Fueled by the industry’s gender gap at the leadership level, Olsen and LaGree published this research as a continuation of their “Trajectory Project” initiative, which provides tools for those starting out in their careers to create meaningful paths to leadership positions. Through interviews with 31 early-career women in advertising and public relations, the researchers found that the young women were deeply impacted by informal professional relationships, more than any other type of socialization experience.

“We identified an intersection of powerful experiences stemming from these professional relationships,” Olsen said. “Young women learned the art and power of advocacy; they learned about access to high-profile work opportunities; and they observed effective role-modeling from more senior women who demonstrated career navigation and work-life balance.”

Olsen LaGree research

The article, “Taking action in the first five years to increase career equality: the impact of professional relationships on young women’s advancement,” was published in Gender in Management, an international journal focused on gender issues within the scope of management and leadership. The full manuscript is available through the K-State Research Exchange at https://krex.k-state.edu/handle/2097/42905.

To further highlight the importance of the early-career stage and its potential impact on gender equity at the leadership level, Olsen and LaGree presented the study’s findings to industry stakeholders. Olsen presented an overview of the history of diversity in advertising as well as current findings from Trajectory Project research to DMH Advertising, a full-service ad agency located in Kansas City, Missouri. Additionally, LaGree spoke with CultivatED Marketer, a podcast focusing on professional development within the Midwest marketing community, to discuss proactivity behaviors in early career self-management. The podcast episode is available here.

The Gender in Management article also provides a list of evidence-based action items for industry firms to implement to support early-career professionals as they navigate paths to leadership and career fulfillment.

“We’re proud of this research that has practical implications for a variety of industries seeking to retain and advance top talent, especially those who are members of Generation Z,” LaGree said. “Related to this, we have another project in progress that examines the influence of organizational career development practices and leadership empowerment behaviors on employee engagement and loyalty and career growth opportunities.”

To learn more about LaGree and Olsen’s research, contact olsenk@k-state.edu or danilagree@k-state.edu. Follow The Trajectory Project on Instagram @trajectory_project and LinkedIn. The project offers insights and strategies to advance the next generation of strategic communicators.