“When you’ve worked hard, and done well,
and walked through that doorway of opportunity,
you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back.”
~ Michelle Obama
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” so goes the old adage that might well have originated with the “good old boys club” that grew out of the British and European elite, whose sons attended illustrious boarding schools, colleges and universities — such as Eton, Oxford, Gormanston, Institut Le Rosey, Heidelberg, etc. The good old boys club has long been a powerful network that ensured that sons of the ruling class would achieve high stations in government, business, sports and other industries and fields. This practice goes back centuries, and has existed in other countries around the world, often patterning itself after the kind of protectionism and nepotism carried out by royalty throughout the ages. The practice also included daughters, but in a much different way; women were groomed to be accomplished, elegant and supportive wives, mothers and homemakers.
In the New World, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the good old boys club continued to flourish. The privileged male attended one of the Ivy League colleges and slipped easily into successful careers, while privileged women learned social graces and home economics and married the aforementioned successful men. To this day many CEOs encourage hiring from and corporate giving to their alma maters. But over time the term “good old boys club” generally has come to mean that successful men help other men that they deemed worthy and talented to become successful by helping them to build influential networks and opening doors for them. And, of course, the men had time to hang around their man-cave clubs because they had wives at home who were taking care of the kids, pets, household staff, etc. Women traditionally haven’t had wives to handle such tasks so they could be free to go to a club even if they had one.
So, in America, this generally accepted unofficial boys club hummed along unopposed until the 18th century when women began working in mills and factories and the 19th century when the first “white collar” woman walked through the office door looking for her desk. A panic seized the boys that has never quite gone away, although the club prevailed and still exists.
Women and Men: A Clash of Cultures
Over the centuries men have worked hard to keep women out of the inner boys’ circle, regardless of the industry or workplace. That effort has extended to maintaining exclusive men-only clubs to put a fine point on the fact that women are second-class citizens that must be kept in their place. After all, many men (and women) believed that women did not deserve to rub elbows professionally with men, nor did they deserve to mingle socially with men except at men’s pleasure, such as arm candy or supportive wives or hostesses. Even in their own homes, women were not allowed to join men after dinner in the drawing room, when the latter retired to drink brandy and smoke cigars or cigarettes and discuss business and politics while in a separate room the women sipped tea and talked about their children or volunteer activities.
Problems occurred, however, when some women decided that they didn’t care for this arrangement. They wanted to earn their own money, own their own property, decide when they wanted to marry and have children, and occasionally have a drink and a smoke in the same room with the guys. Problems escalated when circumstances made it necessary for women occupying the same workspace with men — be it in factories, mills, saloons or offices.
Changing times prompted women to enter the workforce in many capacities. The Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Industrial Revolution, the women’s movement, The Pill and the Information Age along with women’s desires to seek other occupations besides cooking, cleaning and bearing children. Laws to accommodate those desires provided increased employment and career opportunities for women.
Conflicts arose when some of those jobs women wanted were already occupied by men. Sometimes it was okay; sometimes men no longer wanted to work as clerks, typists and stenographers, so women could have those. Of course, as women replaced men they were paid less and were viewed as cheap labor. In occupations that women dominated, such as nursing, the pay was low to non-existent — partly because women weren’t aware of what men had been earning or because they were simply driven to help.
But before and after the Civil War, women seriously banded together to help themselves and their families. They formed unions and went on strike to improve their wages and working conditions and protested increases in room and board by company-owned housing. Women founded organizations and in the U.S. they laid the groundwork for women to get the vote. If there ever was a “Good Old Gals Club,” it was thrillingly active during periods of the 19th and 20th centuries; if it had not been, most women would still be segregated from men socially and professionally, working in horrendous conditions for long hours and pitiful pay, and dying in factory accidents and fires.
Warning: Some of the information in the following section has been known to produce bouts of violent giggling and/or uncontrolled raucous laughter, and take several minutes to an hour or longer to recover. This may be followed by additional periodic outbursts when randomly recalling certain of the data:
Following are some of the excuses provided in bygone times by (supposedly enlightened) men and some women as to why women should not work side by side with men:
- Intellectually inferior to men.
- Sexual distractions. Note: In this case, I don’t know why employers did not simply provide Kellogg’s Corn Flakes to their employees, seeing as its inventor, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was an “advocate of sexual abstinence” and had a special reason for creating this cereal.
- Designed to bear children and that’s what they should be doing.
- Predisposed to hysteria that stemmed from “wandering wombs.“
- Susceptible to heart disease when engaging in intellectual pursuits. Some sources have even stated that in that era “doctors reported that too much study actually had a damaging effect on the ovaries, turning attractive young women into dried-up prunes.”
Men-Only versus Woman-Only
Over time, thankfully, many men-only clubs have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but there are still some out there. One men-only club that is stubbornly hanging on is Harvard’s Porcellian Club (originally called “The Pig Club), which says admitting women would encourage sexual assault! Stone Age on line 3!
And some men-only clubs will resist admitting women as members even when it means losing advertising business and tax breaks. Note: Even though Augusta National invited two prominent women to join as members in 2012– much to the delight of women’s groups and some male golf stars — it’s not exactly throwing its doors open to women; the club might be up to three female members now, I couldn’t keep count. Finally, rumor has it that being resurrected from the bone yard is that relic, The Playboy Club, which is expected to reopen in New York later this year.
Some might ask what the big deal is if there are men-only clubs. The big deal is that networking is crucial to women as well as men for career and life advancement, and such clubs provide opportunities to make valuable contacts. If women are shut out men retain such advantage. And in the still male-dominated professional world, which has only begun to shift somewhat since the 1970s, clubs to which men belong are where the opportunities will be found. It simply makes no sense that women from the same colleges or social strata and who can afford the membership are not permitted the same access to the camaraderie, conversations, introductions and opportunities that flourish at such clubs. It should be noted that there is a handful of notable women-only clubs, but not nearly enough.
But if men-only clubs are so last century (and the century before) in their thinking, a 21st century take on one-gender-only clubs is the newly-minted and hot-hot-hot woman-only club, The Wing. The Wing opened last October and according to reports it’s already expanding to another location in Manhattan as well as locations in Brooklyn and Washington D.C. Such a club could be transformative in the way that women network with each other. The Wing was co-founded by two young women who have put a uniquely Millennial stamp on the Club. A tiered-membership fee system is being put into place, but if you’re thinking of joining plan to shell out roughly $1800 a year. And for those who are thinking that they can afford the ticket but don’t have the time, start making time for networking with other women and taking a break from work and personal stuff! You’re worth it, it’s healthy, and you know you have to do this. And for those who cannot afford the price of admission, you can still network by joining a professional organization or other social club that caters to professional women; the idea is to get out there and bond with the sisterhood.
The Good Old Gals Club
But the real Good Old Gals Club is the one in which women in all jobs over every industry and in various economic strata help each other to advance, accomplish and attain…and to cope. Apparently this is not an easy task because after more than two centuries women are still struggling to achieve equality with men in the workplace (and in life!).
Let’s look at some of the issues and ways that women can help each other, not only in workplaces but on college campuses as well:
- Reach back, as Michelle Obama exhorts. In industries and vocations in which women are under-represented — such as the STEM fields, including the sciences and technolgy, as well as in the military and the legal fields, among others — and face a greater degree of sexual harassment and discrimination by men and harsh judgments by their fellow women, women need the support of other women. Thus, whether in a college or a workplace, women who have reached a certain level of authority and clout should reach out to women when recruiting, accepting, counseling, hiring, assigning, training, supervising and mentoring. It seems logical that one reason that men are selected over women for jobs and advanced degree programs is that women in some STEM fields and companies are still novelties, and who wants to take a chance on an oddity? For that reason, girls and women should be encouraged to study math and science, major in a STEM subject in college and pursue a STEM career to increase the numbers of women in these fields. But on the journey and when they arrive they need women as role models, mentors and champions.
- Intervene, when you see something wrong, such as sexual harassment, bullying or discrimination. When a student or employee is under such attacks — whether overtly or covertly — step in and intervene appropriate to the situation. That could mean helping someone who is being overtly discriminated against through the company’s legal system, closing ranks with another woman who is being bullied, or simply being a sounding board. It is often the isolation felt by a victim of harassment, bullying or other form of discrimination that prevents her from standing up for herself; in those cases, stand with her. Help women deal with campus or office “mean girls,” who should be pitied but not tolerated; and don’t be one yourself.
- Manage fairly. There have been many reports that women in management positions tend not to help other women get ahead. While women in management have been proven to help a company’s bottom line and its reputation, they don’t make a difference in gender equality. Women tend to discriminate against other women as much as men do. This is deeply perplexing to me, as I have reported to women, which has resulted in my becoming a manager myself! My managers who have been women have always helped me to advance. I always strove to do the same when I became a manager. If you are in a position to recruit, hire or promote, put yourself in the women’s places and be aware of hidden prejudices. You don’t have to show favoritism to women, just treat both women and men fairly.
- Stick together. Gloria Vanderbilt said, “I always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.” And Mariella Dabbah said, “Lead by example. Support women on their way to the top. Trust that they will extend a hand to those who follow.” When women work in isolation, either physically or mentally, they are weakened and separated from the power they need to advance. When women stick together they share their strengths and become more powerful and upwardly mobile. And, it’s fine for women to compete with other women for assignments and positions, but they should do it on their own merits, not with dirty tricks or sabotage. Thus, wherever you are in your education or career, it is a very smart move to reach out and weave a strong network of women and nurture it with love and care; it will be your safety net for as long as you work. If your company doesn’t have a women workers group or women’s affinity network, start one yourself.
- Strive for gender fairness. Become gender intelligent by recognizing that because men and women are different they have different approaches to conducting business and problem solving and they have different needs. Because the good old boys network of workers has been cut in half with nearly 50% of workers now women, the workplace can no longer be defined in male terms. Women should no longer try to be like men in order to hold down a job. The needs and comfort of both women and men must be addressed in order to have happy and productive workers across the board. As the slogan of The Gender Intelligence Group‘s states, “Great minds think unalike.” Explore the ways in which the differences between genders can be exploited for the good of employees, companies, industries and countries. Vive la différence can truly appy to the workplace, and women can make it happen.
So, the Good Old Gals Club has existed for a long time, and it’s just waiting to increase its membership, the only requirement of which is that you be a female. It just might be the most important club you join.
Until next time,