A few years ago, I was at a networking event for work. I’m usually not a fan of these things, but I was having a relatively good time, and having an easy conversation with a colleague (a guy named “Jacob”).
Soon, another attorney (also a man, “Mark”) came up to us. We included Mark in our conversation, you know, because that’s what civil people do, right? After a few minutes, he turned to Jacob and started talking to him –and only him– about baseball.
I was floored. I was floored that he would try to purposefully exclude me from the conversation; floored that he didn’t return the favor of inclusion; and floored that he would consider me so unworthy of his time. I mean, this guy literally shifted his body to face the other guy, his back to me, and asked him specifically, “hey Jacob, how are you feeling about the Cardinals, right now?”
Aside from feeling slighted, I felt foolish because I was standing right next to them without being able to contribute (I do keep up with sports, but Indiana doesn’t have a major league baseball team so it’s not a sport I follow). I also felt completely dismissed by both of them. Here I was, having a normal conversation with one of them, and then this second guy comes up and decides I’m not worth their attention? No mames guey (in other words: what the hell?!). I stood there for a few minutes trying to figure out if I should excuse myself or not, as I was obviously already out of their minds. Mercifully, the keynote began her speech.
Now, it may seem like an innocent remark on Mark’s part, but this experience is a small example of how the good old boy club continues today, even if it’s not as blatant. This exclusion happens in networking events, golf club outings, retreats, after hour drinks, and sporting events. Even when women are invited to events, it’s easy for a higher-up male (like Mark) to favor the men. While sometimes these behaviors are devoid of an intent to exclude women- the outcome is still the same: we are excluded. This exclusion affects us when we try to get promotions, raises, or when we’re being considered for new positions.
There are official ways your company can address these issues (mainly mentor and sponsorship programs). But the more organic, informal, and perhaps more empowering way is to just not stand for it. I don’t mean to make a scene in the middle of the room, and call them out on their sexist ways (this isn’t the movie 9 to 5). Rather, don’t stay quiet; put yourself in the conversation or event, and find a way to be included! It can feel weird, especially when we often deal with the impostor syndrome and question if we really belong, but it’s worth asserting your presence so as to not have to slink away or feel the sting when you’re ignored.
Another experience a few years later, and a little bit wiser: I’m talking to a state representative at an event when a police officer comes up to us. Like Mark, the officer decides that he’s the only one worthy of the representative’s time. This time, instead of just standing there like a fool, I continued to participate in the conversation. I asked questions and made comments right along with the Rep. Now, I’m sure this policeman had no desire to know my opinion about school closings, but guess what? I’m not the one that started this rude game of interruption and exclusion. I won’t apologize for participating and using my voice. The event ended nicely and we all shook hands good-bye. I left feeling empowered for including myself—a much better feeling than if I had just stood by meekly listening to the men talk.
How do you ensure you are actively participating in your networking events? Have you ever felt excluded or felt the consequences of the Good Old Boys’ Club?