Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Women and the Good Ole Boys Club

Is it right? Is it fair? Of course not, but it exists.

123RF purchase
Source: 123RF purchase

Women are a long way from reaching parity with men in the executive suites and boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies. But the path to the corner office and out of the pink ghetto seems clearer, and we now know some of the tricks men have used to get to the top.

One of the well-known tricks of the trade is “It’s who you know.” That can make it or break it in the business world. No one gets to the top alone. And women cannot do it without networking with men and seeking men as mentors. Male mentors can help women understand the critical world of how men do business, and how to talk so men will listen and help them make it to the top. Women need both male and female mentors. Having both will ensure that she learns the tricks of the trade.

Growing up, I remember that my father, who was an accountant, was a member of the Optimist Club (similar to the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, and other “men’s” organizations). I also remember that the membership was all white males, no women or other races.

That was in the 1950s and 60s. Things have changed—sort of. When my father purchased the family car, he went to a member of the Optimist Club who owned a car dealership. When he needed car insurance, he went to a member of the Optimist Club. That’s a testament to how the good ole boys club works.

The “old boy network” refers to an informal system of friendships and connections through which men use their positions of influence by providing favors and information to help other men. Often men are connected because they belong to the same country club, fraternity, college, or share a similar social background. Many people believe it had its origins in the South, but these networks can be found all over the United States and internationally.

Most important, many good ole boys networks within companies are informal. They exist in any setting, from corporate to religious, to social and political associations among white males. Connections and concessions are made at power lunches, at the sports bar, at the country club, or on the golf course.

These good ole boys clubs have a range of consequences in the business world. Although membership has grown to include more women (and minorities), the white men’s club still wrongfully excludes most women. These clubs wield power through their connections. True, it is who you know. When introduced to the right person, someone can make important business transactions or close a deal through these networks. These networks function like any other informal social network: to establish connections through mutual friendships. “You scratch my back and I scratch your back” is the mantra of the good ole boys. And it works.

Is it right? Is it fair? Of course not, but it exists.

Do not become the constant whiner when you are left out or notice network favoritism. The good ole boys club needs to know when it crosses the line. Set boundaries and address issues from a position of strength, not weakness. Don’t say what they did wrong, which can be perceived as whiny or negative; say what you want them to do, which will come across as positive.

More from Audrey Nelson Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today

More from Audrey Nelson Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today