Lady Business: How Do You Navigate Boys Club Culture?

Joan and Peggy

During my cub reporter days in Texas, Washington and California, I noticed it, but I was too busy working to think very much about it.

Many of my editors at newspapers were women, but the decision makers—metro editors, managing editors and publishers—were often male.

This was not new to me because when I interned on Wall Street and in publishing, the same was true. Women were doing middle management work, at best, grunt work at most.

I mistakenly assumed this was women’s fault. Maybe they didn’t want to join the upper ranks.

And then I started to notice that the people in power all hung out with each other.

On golf courses. After work. In cigar clubs.

Sometimes this was a co-ed affair, but generally, the women hung out with each other, the interns were an underclass left to fend for ourselves, and the men hung out with other men.

“It’s the boys club, honey,” someone said to me when I was about to start reporting as a full-time staff writer. “That’s just how it’s always been.”

I hate that as an explanation. That is what segregationists said about Jim Crow, it’s what bigoted sociologists say about poor people and people of color.

But the prospects of women working in environments where they are paid equally and can advance based on the merit of their work vs. whether or not they are attempting or succeeding in acting like “one of the boys” seem pretty bleak.

Amanda Hess, lifestyle editor at GOOD, wrote about the release of a Status of Women report this spring that confirms we already know: Women make less and they are often concentrated in lower paying fields. Advice for getting ahead?

Again and again, the women in attendance—actress Geena Davis, yoga entrepreneur Kimberly Fowler, and Sax—encouraged the girls to build confidence through the female networks of sports teams. Then, attorney and public servant Maria Blanco provided an interesting variation on the theme: Study the sports page, she told the girls in attendance. Even if you don’t like baseball, you’ll be forced to talk about it with the men who will be your bosses some day.”

I would love to tell you that I tried this, but I actually fell in love with football quite by accident (and partially by moving to Texas). I still don’t know enough about baseball or basketball to convince anyone I can pay attention to any sport for more than five minutes. But maybe that’s good advice.

Gina Trapani, a tech entrepreneur and a web app developer, had some advice that I like better: If you have your choice of where to work, choose a business that hires (and promotes) more inclusively. In response to recent articles about a “brogrammer” culture in Silicon Valley—the tech equivalent of the boys club—she wrote for CNN that women could use knowledge of that phenomenon in their favor:

When a recruiter’s pitch is: “Wanna bro down and crush some code?”—like San Francisco-based Klout’s was—you get a sense of what that company is looking for. If you’re a woman, it’s not you. That’s pretty sad, but it’s not all bad. As a woman and a software developer, crossing Klout off the list of places where I might work helps me narrow my options. I’d rather find out that an employer glorifies young dudes before I take a position than afterward.

I like that solution better than studying the sports page, frankly. But it’s a tough economy. What do you do to get ahead in work environments where you feel excluded from the boys club? I sort of love this list from This Recording: In Which We Teach You How To Be A Woman In Any Boys’ Club. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!

Previously: Motherhood and Debt, Breaking News! Women Like Marriage and Work

by Joshunda Sanders
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Joshunda Sanders is a Bronx native and the author of four books including two published last year, All City, a novella, and a memoir, The Beautiful Darkness: A Handbook for Orphans. She lives in New York City.

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3 Comments Have Been Posted

I experienced a little bit of

I experienced a little bit of this in my old college job. I always told myself once I got into the real world and got a real job, things would be different. Ha! A lot of the people in higher positions were males, when the time came for them to recommend people to get on track to being in higher positions, they recommended their buddies, who often were also males. A lot of recruiting for new people happens through friends recommending friends. So there is a cycle of males bringing in their male buddies and those males going on to higher positions. Businesses definitely need to change how they recruit. A little more inclusivity and diversity wouldn't hurt. Once in a while, go outside the box.

I work for a financial

I work for a financial services organisation in Australia. There are a number of female manager throughout the company, but the top level are all men. One of the top managers came to my town and several people were invited to a team building day - playing golf. A couple of years ago I considered taking a few golf lessons just so I had the option of going to these things if they came up, but then I was like, 'bugger that!'.
My two managers are a woman and a camp gay man. Whenever they go for conferences they come back lamenting that they're always dominated by sporting terminology, being forced to play football, and the guest speakers are primarily sports people. Not that women and gay men don't like sports, but surely there are other ways to motivate the team?


My previous job took me to a town where the Oilmen's group hosted an annual curling bonspiel. However instead of 'allowing' women to play on the 'men's' teams, they created a whole new summer golfing tournament for women only. This allowed me to network with other women who were in the oil field area or were wives of oil field workers. Mostly entry level front office workers and wives. While they are wonderful gals, it was not a networking situation for myself. A few months later, when being assigned work for a new project my supervisor said this is 'john's project' like they were bff's forever, being on first name basis and all. 'Oh you know john?' 'Yeah, we played on the same team in the bonspiels this past weekend.' 'Ahh.'
I never did work on 'Kathy's project.' Or 'Cindy's project'

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