By Jonathan Segal
The term boys’ club refers to the unofficial and often impenetrable group of men—usually white men—in an organization or department who have effective control and power. Being part of or having access to the club is often critical to making the right connections to advance within the organization.
Because these groups often form covertly, and sometimes as a result of unconscious rather than conscious bias, the membership does not always correspond to the organizational chart. Moreover, top executives often deny the existence of an exclusionary club.
There are many reasons an organization, or a silo within, may have a boys’ club.
One reason is what the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission calls like-me bias: the human tendency to be more comfortable with those who are like you. “I don’t discriminate,” says the executive. But he socializes with, plays golf with, and feels more comfortable among those who look like him.
Does this risk exist in an organization where women are in control? You bet. Executives in these organizations face the same tendencies toward like-me bias to the detriment of those with Y chromosomes.
Boys’ clubs do not justify girls’ clubs, legally or morally. Like-me bias is usually the product of unconscious affinity toward similarity. Sometimes, however, conscious considerations contribute to a boys’ club.
Why do these clubs exist in some companies and how do we eradicate them?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts to help HR professionals move toward equal employment opportunity (EEO).
Q1. What is a boys’ club and how do you know if you have one in your organization?
Q2. If boys’ clubs are primarily about social engagement then what’s the harm?
Q3. Should women try to join boys' clubs or start their own? Why or Why Not?
Q4. Is “like-me” bias always discriminatory in nature? When is it OK and not OK in the workplace?
Q5. Do connections matter more than credentials when it comes to succession planning?
Q6. What are some of the ways organizations can help dismantle boys’ clubs?
Q7. Is Don Draper from Mad Men a role model? Why or Why not?
Q8. What do you think Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) would say about boys’ clubs?