One of my fave work related blogs, ask a manager, recently had a post about a work situation that many of us may face. The men, often bosses, networking together in a way that excludes women. This happens a lot, especially in our field. The reason is rarely malicious, but rather some events are “standard” and the standards are still set by men. Womp womp. So in this example, a bunch of dudes wanted to go to an NFL game and most of the women weren’t into football so they ended up excluding women from this event because they assumed they wouldn’t want to attend.
If you watch Insecure than you know that this was a story line for Molly who was trying to make inroads with the partners. That story line showed a realistic depiction of women of color trying find a place in an environment that’s not for us–you could see the uphill battle she was facing. And it’s not just Big Law! I’ve seen a few events where it’s men going to do something (get a drink, play golf, etc) where it would be weird for me to be the only woman attending. But in those cases, I have to make a choice about crashing a boys’ party or letting others get ahead just because of what’s between their legs.
How do we avoid missing out on good networking events? I decide my response based on the intent of the parties involved. Almost always, it seems to be a question of ignorance. Like, yes, they should know better and question why women aren’t participating in their events, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and react as if they just don’t know better. In those cases, I make sure to participate even if I’m the one soliciting the invite. I’m used to wedging myself into places that are a little cold, thank you very much. And I won’t let someone’s ignorance get in the way of advancing my career.
So I participate in events that may feel exclusionary, even if I’m not a big fan. Of course, that means I have to be proactive. I can’t assume I’ll be invited, so I have to go out of my way to ask how to get an invite and then make sure to attend. And while I’m there, I’m present. I participate. Maybe at a sports game, I’m not discussing stats about players, but I’m conversing and playing the networking game.
Will one after-work event solve all your relationship problems? No. But the more you participate, the more comfortable you’ll become in unknown settings. More importantly, you’ll slowly build those connections with people you may not have connected with if you didn’t participate at all. And that’s really the point of doing all this, even if it feels sucky and kind of annoying to force your way in: advance your career by any means necessary.
Now, I know not everyone is just plain ignorant. There are plenty of men that wish for the “old days” of just men. They will intentionally do things to exclude women or do things to make them uncomfortable. And no matter how you wedge yourself into those settings, you’ll never really make strides.
That’s why it’s equally important to have a big picture perspective of your job and career goals. Will you grow in a setting like this? Will you advance far enough to make the fight you have to give worth it? I want all of us to advance in our careers and we absolutely need more representation in practice areas that are generally cold towards us. I know that means you may have a few more obstacles to deal with and sometimes it’ll be worth it. But when people show you their true colors and make it obvious that you’ll never be welcomed, then you should need to consider your mental health and future prospects before deciding how much of your time, dignity, and intelligence to give them.
Ultimately, many of the male-centered forms of networking are done because it’s a standard and people in power are too comfortable to make more welcoming changes. That’s completely not cool, but it’s workable. If you find yourself hearing of interesting opportunities to network with your bosses—make a plan to get involved. But, if after some attempts it’s obvious you’re not wanted, make a plan to move on to bigger and better things.