Tuesday, May 1, 2012

From the Article Archive: How Can I Break Into Closed Networks?


Given that I have always worked in a male-dominated industry (very often I am the only woman in the room or one of very few), in an engineering capacity, how can I break into the closed networks? It seems that people are just not treating me as one of the "guys". With my most recent layoff I get the opportunity to start from scratch, so I want to do it right from the beginning.

Jo Miller answers:

Viewing workplace coalitions as a "closed network" or "boys' club" will only disempower you.

Resist the temptation to write it off as a "boys’ club". Instead, you may gain a lot by understanding what drives and sustains all of the informal social networks around you.

When starting a new job, one of the most valuable exercises you can undertake is to understand those informal networks in your new workplace. Do this well in your first few months and you will find that navigating the "networks" and office politics become much easier. Consider acting as though you are a "cultural anthropologist", closely observing the communication and relationships playing out around you in your new organization.

Aim to identify:

  • Individuals who have formed strong one-on-one working relationships
  • Groups that have formed tight coalitions, where everyone works well together and looks out for one another.

Observe closely and you may discover that all not guys get along with all other guys. Often what may have appeared to be a "male network" includes some women and excludes some men.

Try to figure out how these relationships and coalitions formed, and what the glue really is that keeps these relationships and groups tight. For example, do they have a common academic background or interest? Did they work together for a previous organization or leader, or are they of a certain personality type?

Identify the key people of influence in your new workplace. If you make a point of cultivating good working relationships with them first, others in the group who respect those influencers may come to accept and respect you too.

Whether you decide you’ll attempt to break into the club or not, gathering this information will give cues as to how you can work most productively with those individuals and groups.
You may ultimately need to decide, what’s more important: to be liked or to be respected? Having cordial, respectful, productive working relationships may be just as effective as being treated as “one of the guys”.

Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc. which offers women’s leadership seminars and coaching programs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very useful ideas about disregarding the networks as boys networks. In fact, in engineering teams, I find the emphasis on logic is usually very strong for accepting new ideas and changes. It may be easier to "win" an entire team on a logical basis than specifically biased individuals.