If you’re a woman in the workforce, chances are you’ve experienced the “boys' club,” an informal system of guys bonding with guys that keeps men in positions of power. As the name suggests, the boys' club excludes women (and other marginalized groups).
Given the number of shows and movies that depict boys' club atmospheres (Think Mad Men and even Anchorman), you may think that you know what a boys' club is like. On the contrary, some of the signs are less noticeable than you think. Ever wonder why the women in your company constantly get passed up for promotions or why you feel like an outsider at work? Your job may be run by a boys' club, or at least a culture that still abides by boys' club traditions. These are some of the subtle yet serious red flags to look out for.
1. The male-to-female ratio is…off
If there are more men at your job than women, don’t panic—this doesn’t automatically symbolize a boys' club. However, this does raise some questions about diversity at your job. Even if you work in a male-dominated industry, you should be seeing at least a slight increase in female colleagues. In 2018, LinkedIn reported women are slowly entering more fields that were previously dominated by men. If your company is still failing to recruit qualified women, it may suffer from a boys' club mentality that places little value on diverse recruitment.
2. The organizational chart doesn’t make sense
I once worked for a company that had a leadership team. After several women complained that the leadership team lacked diversity, the company leaders diversified it. Shortly after, they created a senior leadership team. As you may have guessed, the senior leadership team was composed of all men of the same race and similar backgrounds. The message I received was that they wanted to stay in power, even if it meant adding a layer to our org chart that made no sense.
Take a look at your company’s org chart. Is it clear? Is it fair? Do you and your colleagues follow it? It may tell you more than you think.
3. You don’t know where the ‘water cooler’ is
The office “water cooler” used to be a place where coworkers gathered to share advice and ideas. Even if your company didn’t have an actual water cooler, there was a break room, cafeteria, or other gathering spot where you could casually voice your opinions. But today, the water cooler may not even be on company property. Although they’ll never admit it, many company leaders show preference to employees they engage with outside work. The boys' club is rooted in social engagement at country clubs, sporting events, fraternities, and other exclusive gatherings. During these social engagements, males often develop strategies to resolve workplace problems. So, if you’re not privy to the party, you may be missing out on key opportunities to advance.
4. The women in your office are relegated to “women duties”
While at a former job, my coworkers and I were wrapping up a potluck. As one woman began cleaning up and placing leftovers in containers for the office kitchen, one of my male coworkers said he would leave her to it since “she was so good at it.” Now, this wasn’t one of those big, glaring red flags of a boys' club. Instead, this was a microaggression that I might have missed had I not been paying attention. In your workplace, you might find that people quickly task women with domestic duties or deem them the “office mother.” Pay close attention to how men label the women in your workplace. It can tell you a lot.
5. Things are the way they are for no good reason
Most of the patriarchal systems in this country have prevailed for so long because they have gone unchallenged. If you’ve found that things are the way they are without good reason, your employer may have a boys' club. If this is the case, you might find that you and your coworkers have to do things that don’t help the business, and when you question their necessity, no one can explain why things are the way they are. You might also find that the men at your job are applauded for simply doing their jobs. Or, your male colleagues may have more say in big decisions than you do, even though you perform the same job. Be wary of systems, policies, and practices that no one can (or cares to) explain.
6. Maternity leave policies are awful
Most women don’t check their company’s maternity leave policies until they become pregnant. But you can inquire about these policies at any time. Although poor maternity leave policies don’t definitively point to a boys' club mentality, they can certainly serve as a red flag. Insufficient maternity leave policies may reflect leaders with little regard for women and their well-being. If your company’s policies leave much to be desired, consider speaking with your employer about creating a more inclusive culture based on merit and equality.