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Battling The Good Ole Boys Club At Work

A woman's  place in the workforce has evolved over the past thirty years. What hasn't changed is the existence of the "good ole' boys club" and the challenges women face navigating those waters.  Organizations often maintain these "clubs" don't exist. In reality there are many more inside clubs than we any would like to believe. For women, the phenomenon creates additional challenges. 

If you  question this concept, consider a few recent statistics released by the Center of American Progress. Women comprise 50.8% of the U.S. population while earning almost 60% of undergraduate as well as masters degrees. In addition women represent most 47% of the U.S. Workforce.  Women represent 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs. In addition women hold just 16.9 % of Fortune 500 board seats. 


As a woman executive, what can you do to combat the issue? Articles point to the need for women executives to gain respect, trust and ensure their voice is heard. These traits are indeed  critical. The difficulty encountered is identifying the most effective way to attain these traits.


Women who have gained a seat at the table in the "good ol' boys club" sometimes find their delegated role as one that serves more of a backseat function. For example:

- Playing the Yes Ma'am - You are expected to agree with the team in all cases.

- Acting as the Fall girl - The team finds places blame or pressure on the woman executive

- Performing the role of equalizer - When the team can't agree they may expect the woman executive to console egos and get others to agree with the majority.


Here are a few thoughts to consider if you find yourself battling this situation.


Stand up for what you believe but acknowledge when others are right

Integrity is doing the right thing especially when no one is looking. Show integrity in your actions. The quickest way to lose respect is to backdown when the going gets rough. Of course you want to acknowledge when others are right, but if your opinion and position has credence and substance, backing down due to internal pressure will not serve to advance your efforts I leadership.


Don't play yes ma'am

You are entitled to your opinions. Learn to express them in the most professional and politically correct manner possible. If you are told "it is not ok to disagree with the boss", you have a critical decision to make. Is this the type of at at atmosphere you or any woman can flourish in?


Challenge  the bully

There will often be an individual who works to intimidate through bullying, rudeness or exerting organizational positioning.   Just like in high school bullies feel they can intimidate others into doing things their way. Women executives can be viewed as the weaker link. Other team members take advantage of that through verbal pressure or intimidation factors.  If you feel this is occurring, turn the tables and challenge the bully. It doesn't matter if it s your boss or the CEO. Ask for clarification, ensure your view is heard, attempt to obtain a better understanding of their opinion. If there is refusal, you must find a way to alert the organization either through HR or an official complaint process.


Be prepared to exit

Not all working environments are suited for women in leadership. The word evolution itself denotes slower paced change.  It's taken 40 years to get where we are today and it may take another few decades to move past some of the inherent cultural and perceptive difficulties women face in  becoming leaders.   You may need to recognize when you appear to be me fighting a losing battle.  If so, you have a personal decision to make in regards to career, life and ultimate happiness


These thoughts may not be workable in all situations but many can be adaptable. A key is to have faith into your own abilities and maintain your backbone when the going gets tough. You may lose the battle but that is a small concession to losing the war.


 By Lynn Fountain, CGMA, CRMA, MBA