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How to break into ‘closed' networks

Wednesday, May 8, 2013   (0 Comments)
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By Jo Miller

An emerging leader asks: "Given that I have always worked in a male-dominated industry (very often I am the only woman in the room, or one of very few), how can I break into the closed networks? People are just not treating me like ‘one of the guys.’”

Viewing workplace coalitions as a "closed network” or "boys’ club” will not empower you. You’ll never be one of the boys, so why try? The way to advance is by understanding what drives and sustains the informal social networks around you.

Learn more about the informal workplace networks in your workplace. Do this well for a few months and you will find navigating the networks and office politics much easier. Act like a cultural anthropologist, closely observing the communication and relationships playing out around you in your new organization.

Aim to identify individuals who have formed strong one-to-one working relationships and groups that have formed tight coalitions, where everyone works well together and looks out for one another. Observe closely and you may discover that not all guys get along with all other guys. Often what may have appeared to be a male network includes some women — and excludes some men.

Try to figure out how these relationships and coalitions formed and what the glue really is that keeps these relationships and groups tight. For example, do they have a common academic background or interest? Did they work together in a previous organization or for the same leader, or are they of a certain personality type?

Identify the key people of influence in your new workplace. If you make a point of cultivating good working relationships with them first, others in the group who respect those influencers may come to accept and respect you, too.

Whether you decide you’ll attempt to break into the club or not, gathering this information will cue you in to how you can work most productively with those individuals and groups. You may ultimately need to decide what’s more important: to be liked or to be respected. Having cordial, respectful, productive working relationships may be just as effective as being treated as "one of the guys.”

Jo Miller,
CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc., facilitates the NEW Leadership Academy webinars designed to help Network of Executive Women members build core skills and prepare for top management roles in their organizations.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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