Taking on the Old Boy’s Club with the Sisterhood of the Workspace
By Kiran Manral
Hands up all you women at work who’ve come up against the Old Boy’s Club and have had your nose bashed in when they slammed the door on you as you tried to get a peek in? Apart from putting your nose out of joint, and rightfully so, the Old Boy’s Club is a real and tangible monster. It huddles in boardrooms, in the bar after work for a couple of drinks, on the golf course on the weekends, it draws a ring around itself and god help you if you’re on the outside, looking in, pressing your nose up against the smoke fogged glass trying to get a clearer view because no, you’re not going to be allowed in. The Old Boy’s Club is where the decisions are made, the wheeling and dealing takes place, and where being on the outside can be a disadvantage comparable to wearing brown shoes, white shirts and loud ties in London’s hallowed corporate investment banking circles.
So, unless you’re prepared to take a hammer, channel your inner Thor and bash in that door only to find that they’re hauling you away on charges of assault and battery once you’re done, the more sensible thing to do would be to build your Old Girl’s Club. Ah yes, we can quibble over the ‘Old’ in the moniker another day though.
How do we go about building this Old Girl’s Club, you ask? Or, perhaps, the Sisterhood of the Workspace, if one may rebrand it so.
Here’s an anecdote that best exemplifies it. When Ella Fitzgerald, despite her fabulous voice, was struggling to make it as a singer, Marilyn Monroe, who had been listening to Ella’s records to work on her own singing, told the owner of Mocambo perhaps the most popular nightclub in Hollywood then, that if he signed Ella on, she would take the front row every single day for a week. And of course, the press would go crazy, the publicity would be huge, and Mocambo would become THE place to be seen at. In Ella’s words, ““The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”
That, in a nutshell, is what networking is all about for women. For those who have smashed the glass ceiling, clambered through and are now squinting down through the shards, they must reach out to the women scrabbling to gain a foothold in this slippery slope of the corporate patriarchy and give them a hand up. To do this we must begin building our affinity circles, there’s enough space under the sky for everyone.
Most companies have an organised format in terms of mentor-mentee programmes, if not, find yourself someone with immense potential to mentor if you wish. If you need a mentor, reach out to women who are in a position of power and experience. It takes nothing except courage and fair bit of gumption. At the max, you get snubbed. At the best, you find someone who has been there, done that, worn out the t-shirt, and would be glad to pass on the wisdom to you.
Then there are the little things. Send out emails recommending someone you’ve worked with for an assignment you hear about. Mention someone who has done some work you admire on your social platforms. Be generous with the compliments related to professional competence and achievements, and not sliding, as we so often do, into the trap of appearance. Build your tribe, a group of women who are supporters and comforters, women who have your back and will prop you up on days when the only comfort you can see on the distant horizon is a tub of Belgian chocolate. Create spaces for a more feminine version of networking that are convenient and accessible. One of my most powerful means of networking and reaching out to other professional women is through whatsapp groups—quick, easy and instant.
And finally here’s something from Gloria Steinem. “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke . . . She will need her sisterhood.” Amen.
Kiran Manral is the author of six books across genres, the most recent being The Face At The Window. She is also a recovering Nutella addict.