Your Network Is Your Insurance

“I was one of the boys…until I wasn’t.” —40-something, lawyer

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Most of the younger women I talk to don’t feel the effects of gender bias. When we first start out things are more of a level playing field.  It’s when women hit their 30s and 40s that it starts to get noticed. This is the age that women I talk to generally see subtle differences in their advancement. This is the age where traditionally workers are getting into the higher levels of management or perhaps trying to get funding to start our own company. The numbers seem to show the same trend.

“A new study out today from the American Association of University Women shows that among recent college graduates, the pay gap kicks off at 82 percent. Even when male and female students graduate with the same major from the same college and enter the same industry, women stand to make 7 percent less. The gap increases from there.” Why Is It So Hard To Fix The Wage Gap, Slate, 10/24/12

See this past 40:20 Vision interview with negotiation expert Carol Frohlinger on second-generation gender discrimination.

But the quote above really hit it home for me. Three years ago or so I spoke with this friend about 40:20 Vision. She was hesitant to get drawn into any conversation about women in law. She worked hard to be “one of the guys” and didn’t want to get involved when younger women asked to form a women’s group at her firm. She worked hard and didn’t want to be seen or treated differently as a “woman”.

Cut to a few years later and she had a different tune. For a variety of reasons, from a sudden health crisis to discovering she was getting paid a lot less than men in her firm…she realized she had never really been part of the boys club. She was simply supporting the boys club.

She was a people pleaser and worked her but off to help build other people’s “book.” Since then she has put her firm on notice— within a year pay me the same or I go. At the same time she is building her own network …of women. Getting women together to fly fish or have lunch…even (gasp) a martini at lunch. She has found women hesitant to leave work to have lunch…but is working on it. She saw first hand what the benefit of taking time to network could do from many of the men she has worked with over time.

She is working with other women and building her own client base…and finding that many of her clients find working with women preferable.

I am not suggesting you have to suddenly work with all women or all men. In the end, this woman will work with both but has evened out her playing field. But I am suggesting build you own network now. Even if you don’t think you need it now, consider it an investment in the future…and insurance just in case.

This recent article about the influence of male fraternity networking for jobs in finance, underscores the message (and prompted me to write this post!)

Secret Handshake Greets Frat Brothers on Wall Street. A few quotes:

“The fraternity pipeline helps undergraduates beat odds three times steeper than Princeton University’s record-low acceptance rate, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) choosing 350 investment-banking interns this year from 17,000 applicants.”

“College women don’t always grasp that men their age are assembling connections that can matter more than schoolwork, said Erica O’Malley, who heads a diversity program at Grant Thornton LLP. She quizzed her children’s friends as they passed through her home near Chicago over the Thanksgiving break.”


Thank you  to all my networks, from 40:20 Vision to 40 Women To Watch Over 40 to The to friends and family.

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