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Apart from the Old Boys

Some working environments are stereotypically masculine terrain. If you are a female working in this environment, you may not be able to form adequate relationships and business connections.

Recently I received a very interesting question from a young woman. She works in the architecture field and spends a good deal of her time on construction sites. As you know, there is a distinctly masculine atmosphere on such sites. The men were certainly civil to her during work, but she was overtly excluded from lunches and after work activities. Now, this was not the run-of-the-mill "who do I sit with in the junior high cafeteria" type question. Relationships were being formed during these social times that would lead to business connections later. Not being a part of the gatherings meant missing important opportunities. What advice did I have for her?

Phrased another way, this is the classic question "How can I network if I am not part of The Old Boys Network?"

Just One of The Guys ~ Back when women were first beginning to make strides into power positions, they morphed into "mini-men." They dressed in slightly feminized versions of the male power suit complete with floppy bows in lieu of ties. Women were encouraged to minimize gender differences, eliminate references to family and mimic the speech patterns of men. Men from non-Caucasian backgrounds were subtly encouraged to groom themselves to a white-male standard and mimic behaviors. While I never encourage anyone to pretend to be someone they are not, in some industries, this is still the only entr?e point for those not of the old boys network.

F.O.D. (Friend of Daughter) ~ This is a thinly disguised take on the Madonna/Whore thing. In some workplaces those in charge see women as either a friend of their daughter's, or as the proverbial "niece." Unfortunately this leaves a lot of middle ground completely uncategorized. Minority men needed to think like Eddie Haskell and act like Wally Cleaver. If you work in one of these offices, it is best to relate to the power brokers in the same way one would relate to your best friend's parents. Allow the paternalistic tones to open the door to a more realistic and honest business relationship.

Breaking Bread ~ The beginning of many business relationships is at the table. If you are not being included, think about ways you can cull the herd to a manageable number and have them join you instead. Right before you break for the day, or during the morning coffee break, ask two or three (for women, if you ask only one, there is the chance in a male dominated field that this may be perceived as a date!) to the new sandwich shop that opened around the corner.

No, No, Not Golf ~ If you are a golfer, great. Golf is a wonderful way to interact with the guys. Please skip to the next paragraph. If not, however, you should find alternative activities to have business/social gatherings. They can be business-focused such as attending a professional lecture together. Or they can be more social such as an elegant afternoon tea or a sporting event. The activity is not as important as spending time away from the office with those with whom you wish to build your network.

Come to the Committee ~ As part of your professional development, you should already belong to at least one professional organization. Volunteer to serve on a committee. This is a great way to meet others in your field in a non-threatening and very collaborative way. Through your service you will meet people you wish to add to your network and be able to interact with them in a positive and focused way.

Support Group ~ As someone typically excluded from the Old Boys Network, you should seek out other groups to join. Many professions have women's and/or minority organizations specifically designed to help you make connections beneficial to your career. If there is nothing appropriate in your area, consider founding one (or a local chapter of one) yourself. Some of these parallel groups have become so influential that old boys network members are attempting to join!

Magic Mentors ~ Any upwardly mobile professional should actively seek out at least two mentors. The first should be someone influential in your current company, but not your boss or your boss's boss. The second should be someone influential in your industry. These can be formal relationships or less structured interactions. The key to having a mentor is being able to listen and having contact at least three times a year. Your mentors can then refer you to other influential individuals as well as organizations that will be valuable to your career.

One does not need to be a woman or a minority to be excluded from the Old Boys Network. Men may be excluded from the existing power structure in traditionally female dominated fields such as nursing or elementary teaching. The lesson here is for you to analyze your situation, know your industry, plan your professional goals and determine which route is best for you. It is important to do something. Activity breeds activity. Once you are out and about, meeting and greeting, you will find the right people and others will be drawn to you. So, pick a plan, pull out your calendar and get going!

Jodi R.R. Smith is the founder of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm that creates and delivers seminars to clients ranging from children to CEOs. She has been promoting better behaviors since 1986.

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