Women take on ‘Old Boy network’

Published: 07/05/2013

BBC, 01/06/2009

“Women are tackling the Old Boy network at work with women-only support groups, a left of centre think-tank says. Demos says the growth in professional women’s networks enable women to “have it all” – help to further their careers and work together to beat inequality.

Helen McCarthy, author of the report, hinted it might mean entering a “new era of work-based” feminism. She added it was now “OK” for women to want to get ahead, but they also wanted “a fairer deal as a group”. The author of Girlfriends In High Places argued that women’s mindsets had changed in the 1990s and 2000s.

Moving up the ladder

“The Old Boy Network did come up time and again in our research as a career obstacle. “But instead of the combative feminism of the 1970s and 1980s, today the workplace is less overtly exclusional.” Nowadays women aim to link up with other women on a “personal and general level” furthering their own career and improving the lot of others. “Networked feminists recognise that ‘having it all’ means acting to advance women collectively as well as realising their own personal goals.” The report also claimed that some workplace changes had had an effect on a woman’s lot. While flexible working had tackled the problem of work-life balance, it had also contributed to women being “left out of the loop” at work.

Left out?

Ms McCarthy explained that women are more likely to chose such patterns to enable them to fit in their role as carer – but it also has a downside. It means these workers are not able to attend after hours pub trips – an essential arena to get informal support and advice about their career, she says. Other factors leaving women in the lurch at work were:

– Small talk about football that allows men to bond before meetings.
– “Big briefcase syndrome” – women are more likely to have to leave on time to get to the shops on their way home.
– Sexual politics of the workplace which makes women wary of approaching a male colleague for career advice, as they may become the subject of office gossip.While many experts have talked of the end of gender stereotypes, Ms McCarthy said “empirical evidence” suggested they are very much alive and kicking. She added that women’s networks, whether formal or informal, were welcomed by women – 87% of members surveyed said the fact that they were all-female made them attractive.

Making a difference

And they can make a change she adds. Such groups can lobby the company chief executive, make presentations to him or even work with the human resources department to get a better deal for women, whether in terms of working hours or development programmes more suited to women. In fact the National Black Women’s Network advised Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt on how to get better access to childcare for black women and women from minority groups.

Elsewhere Women In Film produced an article in the Guardian complaining of the lack of female names on the boards of big companies. The result was that they compiled a list of worthy female names and sent it off to various media firms calling on them to be more imaginative and creative in their recruitment drives.