Women often claim they have a difficult time playing on the same field as men who seem to know the game. As I travel across the country, I hear the same song: Women find it difficult to infiltrate the "Good Old Boys Club" and gain positional power.
I am neither skeptical nor prejudiced about men in the workplace. I believe that gender inequities will shift and balance out in the long run. But men did enter the workplace long before women.
Women don't support each other in ways that could help their female colleagues to advance. When I say that, women claim:
• " I had to work so hard to get here, I didn't have the time to look around for my sister employees."
• "I did not think I was ignoring others, I just had such an important job to do that I didn't look around."
• "My boss and mentor kept me completely focused on my own goals."
• "I don't have a woman model who is helping other women, beyond the token gestures and speeches."
• "My mentors are men, and men seem to take care of each other in different ways."
• "I don't know how to help other women. We all seem so independently tough."
• "My colleagues don't look in need of my support. I guess we don't want to look weak or dependent."
To raise your visibility and heighten your opportunities as a woman, don't hesitate to plant seeds of interest. Try: "John, you know I expect to grow in this organization, and I want to help you to see my attributes through my reports. I hope to progress here with great speed and will do what it takes. With your help, I do hope to get there."
Broaden your sphere of influence around the company by volunteering for special projects, writing white papers, going out of your way to meet people and capitalizing on changes. Try: "I know we are reorganizing this unit, and I would like to be considered for one of the new positions called for in this change." Or, better yet: "I've been thinking about your dilemma, John, over the changes, and I have an idea of how I can help. My capacity to create something new in this arena may solve some of the problems."
Learn the unspoken rules from your male confidants. Some of the rules are helpful and some are playful. You don't have to learn your boss's favorite sport, but you could recite a score now and again. Your response to inequality should be to move forward and look so professional that you can't be ignored. Women are not victims of men on the job, they are victims of a late and slow start in the marketplace - and the magnificent lure of motherhood and the consequent confusion about how simultaneously to self-promote and balance a career and a family.
Jean A. Hollands, M.S., is founder and chairwoman of the Growth and Leadership Center in Mountain View. For more information, call 966-1144 or visit www.glcweb.com.