Boys club, Girls club By Lindiwe Ncongwane

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The ‘boys club’ is a term popularly used to describe or refer to a group of managers who un-officially look after one another at work formally and informally.  The ‘boys’ in this club will always ‘hang’ together, playing golf or other activities, having drinks and meals together.  This goes beyond social encounters into the workplace where they ‘take care’ of one another in terms of benefits and privileges and sometimes promotions, salaries and other connections.  Most often and in many organisations the ‘boys club’ consists literally of men.  Yes, there are women in a few of these clubs however they do not have equal privileges as the other male members of this informal club.  What is even more surprising is that not all men in these positions are part of the ‘boys club’ either.  The big question is,

“what does it take to be part of the boys’ club?  Why can women not be a big part of the ‘boys club’?  Why do we never talk about the ‘girls club’?”

Talking to some of my female colleagues about why they are not part of the ‘boys club’ and why they think it is difficult to join this club, they eluded to the biggest obstacle being the life of a working woman.  I thought deeply about how the life of a working woman could eventually expose and subject women to inequality, exclusion and discrimination in the workplace.  I thought maybe as women we are not assertive or ambitious enough.  That maybe we do not fight for our place in the workplace and are rather complacent and looking for things to be dropped on our laps instead of fighting for them, until one day the penny dropped when I found myself in a similar situation.

I arrive at work as usual and get on with my daily duties.  A meeting appointment pops up for an urgent operations committee meeting where the senior and top management of the organisation will be in attendance for a surprise visit form our headquarters.  The meeting is scheduled for 2pm – 6pm followed by a dinner with the team and management to mingle and dine.  I study this schedule with worry as I know that I am somehow at a disadvantage already.  Nevertheless, I go with the flow of the day as busy as it is right into the scheduled meeting.  Unfortunately our guests are running late from another engagement so we carry on with other matters whilst we wait for them to arrive.  Finally they arrive and start addressing the team on business matters.  I sit listening with interest and am very engaged.

When I look at my watch, it is already 5:30pm and we are nowhere near the end of the discussions and there I am listening attentively,  but distracted.  I remember that I haven’t picked my sons up from aftercare which closed at 5pm; I am sitting there hoping that either my friend or colleague has picked them up together with their children especially when they realised I wasn’t showing up; I am hoping that my sons don’t have homework; I am thinking about what left-overs could be in the fridge that I could quickly warm up for them since I won’t have time to cook a proper meal; I am wondering if I had ironed their uniform for the next day; I worried about missing the dinner with the team and how this was not the first time and if this is a career limiting move. My goodness! I look at my watch one more time, it is 5:50pm! I still wonder “am I the only one worried?”  I look around the room and realise that 80% of attendees are male, and the more elderly females who don’t have small children like I do and those that are much younger females who did not live with their families in the same town. This now makes me more worried.

I start running the two scenarios through my head trying to make a decision around this predicament.  Send a few messages to find out where my sons could be at this time until eventually I sent the last message to my boss who was also in the room and quietly tip-toed out of the meeting room heading straight to my car and then home to my children.  The next day when I met with the other managers and asked how the night went, they in turn asked where I was and why I didn’t join them for dinner.  As I was explaining my predicament, I realised why I was not part of the ‘boys club’.  I mean how could I be when I do not have the time to mingle with the boys?  When all of them were excited about the dinner, I was worried about my family obligations, and I missed out on a time to rub shoulders and possibly be inducted into the ‘boys club’.

I understood my friend’s reasons.  I felt bad.  Missing out on the late meetings and dinners means missing out on inside jokes, bonding sessions, inside information, informal announcements, access to getting to know your colleagues or seniors personally which makes it easy for you to relate to them and slowly bring you to their level, an opportunity for them to pledge their commitment to you whenever you need them.  Fact is I cannot be as spontaneous as they are because I play a role in my family that their wives play in their lives.  At the end of the day for me to be as spontaneous as the boys are, something has got to give.

In the end women have to choose between being a wive and being in corporate.   This breeds another social issue as it feeds into the incrementing divorce rate as women find themselves not being able to balance the two lives equally and creating unhappiness in their families.  When a woman chooses the corporate life and accept entry into the boys club they somehow abandon their roles in the families or seconds it to the nanny or housekeeper.  This tug of war for women is also contribution to the slow increase of women in leadership or top management positions.  I realised why there will always be such a huge gap between men and women in the organisation; why we are not equal; why there are boys clubs and no girls clubs.

Lindiwe Ncongwane is Chairperson of SABPP in the North-West Province and a

Learning & Development Manager at a large hotel group.