You love the mission and the product of the company you work for. On multiple occasions, you’ve been overlooked for a new opportunity, raise, and promotion or excluded from social get-togethers all together. Yet, you’re exceeding expectations in your role. Sound familiar? For many women, “succeeding” in corporate America means learning how to navigate these dynamics when you’re working in a Boys’ Club.
“Boys’ Club” sounds like an archaic term but it’s very much alive in 2017. As a career coach, I work with women who experience the disappointment, frustration and implications of working in this type of cliquey environment everyday. And, it’s happening at the most premier companies in the world.
When former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote her recent blog post alleging that the company failed to act on sexual harassment and gender discrimination complaints, it exposed a Silicon-Valley darling that was already rife with issues. Susan’s courage to speak out about her experience led to an internal investigation that resulted in the firing of at least 20 employees and — as of this week — the resignation of Uber founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick. Uber’s board and investors sent a message to the world that said despite Travis’ baby being valued at $70 billion (making it one of the most highly valued privately held start-ups in the world), his inability to create a culture that works for women means he’s unqualified to the lead the company he founded.
Despite the increased conversation about the need for more gender diversity at senior levels within corporate America, roughly 93% of Fortune 500 companies are still led by men. And, with more men at the top, it creates a culture where there is a significant gap in power, respect and fair treatment for women in the workplace.
As a female leader in tech, I experienced the Boys’ Club first hand. I’ve had male colleagues exclude me from key meetings because they thought I was getting “too much attention.” I’ve had male managers overlook me for promotions because they didn’t think I would “want the additional responsibility.” I’ve had senior leaders both in HR and management justify paying me a lower salary than the guys that I managed on my team because of “timing.” These dynamics were at play throughout my entire career but I learned how to navigate them as I gained more experience and confidence.
Anyone who has ever filed a tax return has likely experienced gender inequality at work in one way or another. It isn’t something to be ashamed of, but with proper visibility and action is something that can be stopped. Here are a few ways that you can help abolish the boys’-club culture and create a new normal — one where diverse values, beliefs, strengths and styles are valued, leveraged and celebrated:
- Heighten Your Awareness: If you’re in question about whether you’re being treated fairly, look around. Pay attention to how people speak to you. Pay attention to why people seek your guidance/assistance (are they asking you to take on administrative tasks or a strategic role?). Pay attention to who’s advancing and why. Understand where you are on the pay scale in comparison to your peers (male and female). Once you’re aware of the problem and have data, then you can take action.
- See Something, Say Something: Whenever you witness another women being disrespected, stand up for her in that moment. I work with women to not only craft the right language to use in toxic moments but also find the courage to say what you mean. For example, when a male colleague cuts off a female colleague, you can say, “Greg, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts. However, before doing so, let’s hear the rest of what Kate has to say so we have the complete picture.” When a male colleague tells an offensive joke, don’t laugh. And, share how you feel. “John, I’m sure your intention wasn’t to hurt anyone with your joke but I found it offensive and demeaning to women.” Your feedback will not only make John aware that his joke was inappropriate but it will send a signal to anyone else who was laughing to think twice about engaging in inappropriate language.
- Share Your Story: Whenever someone crosses your boundaries, share your experience. Speak with your manager, HR, another colleague or whomever can be your advocate, but don’t stay in the shadows. There are people here to help you, validate that what was said/done is wrong and there are indeed consequences to inappropriate behavior. A female direct on my team was apprehensive to share that a popular male colleague within our organization was saying inappropriate and sexually explicit things to her and her female colleagues. But the minute she shared what happened, I notified both my manager and HR immediately and the company took action. Mr. Popular was not only fired but his firing shifted the tone in our office. Interactions between men and women were instantly more civilized, professional and respectful.
- Make Culture Part of Your Selection Criteria: When you’re looking for a new company to work for, make a positive culture part of your top three selection criteria. No matter how great the company, role or compensation is, if the culture doesn’t respect, support and celebrate what makes you unique, then it’s not a place that you want to work.
Too many women stay in a bad culture because they either don’t realize what else is possible or they prefer the devil that they know. But a sub-par culture that allows the unfair treatment and disrespect of women will eat away at your soul everyday.