I don't need to cite statistics that prove senior management teams in corporate America have far more men in them than women. In fact, most of us, at some point, have heard the term, Old Boys Club, used to describe the way a company's professional advancement works at the highest level. What I do want to talk about is the debate around the idea , in spite of proof it works for men, women can't seem to get their act together and form power groups of their own.
A Dirty Little Secret - Women Like to Tear Each Other Down
MSNBC career columnist, Eve Tahmincioglu wrote this very insightful piece called, Women Still Reluctant to Help Each Other. In it, studies and expert interviews indicate things like jealousy and lack of time are making the development of an equally valuable, Old Girls Club, pretty challenging. The biggest shocker to me? Men are better mentors than women. It appears they do a more effective job because:
A) They have greater experience mentoring and being mentored in their careers.
B) They have more confidence in their ability to provide value as a mentor.
Wow! That hurts to hear. I guess I was lucky. Early on in my career, I got hired by a company with a large, strong group of women mentors. The HR department had 16 people in it; 15 women and 1 token guy. The head of HR was a very confident and charismatic woman. Ironically, I remember feeling nervous when I accepted the job offer about being part of a predominantly female team for the same reasons outlined in Tahminciogul's article - I thought they'd be petty and mean. I was wrong! To this day, it's the most supportive team environment I've ever been in. Truth is told, I'm still very close to many of my colleagues from that job, Yep, I'll admit it: I'm part of a top-notch Old Girls Club.
McGraw-Hill Gets the Benefits of an Old Girls Club
In 2003, a small group of senior women - Connie Bennett, Sari Factor, Michelle Ferguson and Vickie Tillman - found themselves talking about what women need to succeed in corporate America and wanting to make a difference for women where they all worked: The McGraw-Hill Companies. From that initial conversation, and countless hours of hard work, the Women's Initiative for Networking and Success (WINS) was born. (They even convinced the male-dominated executive team to fund the effort!) As a result, the program has exploded and now boasts over 24 chapters and 3,676 members worldwide.
Last month, I was invited to attend the WINS leadership conference in NYC. They gave me an award for my work with their Dubuque, IA chapter that included a $5,000 donation to my favorite charity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (A special congrats to Iowa co-chairs, Jill Meloy and Lisa Gottschalk. Their chapter won the WINS excellence award two years in a row!) At the podium, I turned to face a room of 100+ professional women - all smiling members of this widely successful program. I was so overcome by the moment, I started to cry. How girly, huh? And yet, I don't think I would have shed tears if it was a room full of men, or even a mixed crowd. I also don't think I would have gotten weepy if I had sensed they were the kind of women that like to knock each other down. I already knew from working with the Iowa chapter they were sincere in their desire to see women succeed professionally. It was an Old Girls Club environment at its best!
The Secret to Success? As the Song Goes...R-E-S-P-E-C-T
I spent the next two days observing conference workshops and meeting WINS members from all over the country. One thing was clear: These women respected the WINS program and its ability to help them move up in the company. They had powerful guest speakers that included the Governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, and NY Times CEO, Janet Robinson. They openly discussed why women avoid leadership roles for reasons like fear of failing, or the impact it might have on their relationships and family lives. In short, they bonded like crazy and left confident in their ability to succeed.
Not every company can start a program like McGraw-Hill's WINS, but every female who wants to advance their career can try to find a local women's professional group and get active in it. If you can't find one, then join one on-line. Better still, create your own. And, as you get more involved, remember this secret to success: Powerful Old Girls Networks have members who sincerely respect and embrace the concept of women helping other women. They act as role models - which reminds me, I get to end this piece with some good news. Modeling the way should be easy for us ladies.
Why? As it turns out, being good role models in the workplace is something Tahmincioglu's research says us females are actually better at than men!
I'd love our reader's thoughts and experiences (good and bad) with this.
Tell us your stories by posting them below. Are women helping women where you work? And, for any of you men reading, what's your take? Do you see women helping or hurting each others' careers at your office?