Busting into the Boys' Club
Who says a sexist workplace can't be fun? As the recession sends more women back to work, the Chairman of McCann Erickson Nina DiSesa on the joys of chauvinism and being underpaid.
In a business world that worships youth and masculinity, can a middle-aged woman actually re-enter the work force with a decent job or even have a chance to build a good career?
If you Google “women going back to work” you get 138 million hits. Bing the question and get 174 million hits. If you try to keep abreast of this subject you won’t have time to go back to work, or do anything else for that matter. What should you do?
I have always told women trying to make it in the boys’ clubs: Do not scare the men. They don’t like it.
How can a 40-to-50-year-old woman return to the workplace? This will seem odd, but I believe that it might be more rewarding and certainly more fun to make a comeback in a boys’ club rather than a gender-blended environment. Here are my reasons:
One: Boys' clubs are delighted to pay you less than your male counterpart, so you would be a bargain to them. When you have no income at all, unfair compensation may not feel as infuriating as it did when you were in your 20s and 30s. After you prove yourself, you can fight for equal pay. First get the job.
Two: A woman who has been around the block a few times may not be as threatening to The Boys as younger women who might not be able to control emotional outbursts. I ask men why they have a problem when they think we might cry or display any other spontaneous emotion. They all say the same thing: “When women lose it, we don’t know what they will do. It terrifies us.” I have always told women trying to make it in the boys’ clubs: Do not scare the men. They don’t like it.
Three: If you put your career on hold to raise children, you are eminently more qualified to deal with men than a woman who has never negotiated with a 2 year old. Child psychology is a good strategic preparation for dealing with men in boys' clubs, and men in general. Even the men will admit that they’re not that complicated and a little S&M (seduction and manipulation) goes a long way in winning them over. Actually this works with everyone, not only men. It just works better with men.
Four: If you’re older, you are probably not as afraid to laugh at male humor as younger women. When you laugh at their jokes, men instantly think that you are clever and have a great sense of humor. A younger woman has all kinds of things to worry about, mainly the fear that laughing at a man’s jokes will make him think she likes him and then he will hit on her. Older woman can afford to laugh and this actually makes you appear more like them, more confident. I laugh at male humor a lot and sometimes young women will ask if I really think their stupid jokes are funny. Of course they aren’t, but anyone can fake a laugh. (It’s not as humiliating as faking an orgasm.) And it makes them so happy.
Five: Some boys’ clubs feel guilty about not having enough women managers. You could help lessen that remorse. If you managed a home with a husband, children, and a dog, you can probably manage anything. Remember, if you were good when you opted-out, you’re probably still good. You didn’t forget how to think when you were raising a family; you were just using a different part of your brain.
Six: A boys’ club is not easy to get into, but it’s worth the effort. Boys’ clubs are exciting. They’re where the action is for the most part. And, face it, men are fun. They are more confident and therefore more relaxed. They seem to enjoy working and they pal around with each other. They play games. They eat candy. They don’t worry about gaining weight.
Seven: Twenty-something women get along fine with twenty-something men. They have a lot in common. But a 25-year-old woman may not feel comfortable with the 50-year-old man who is running the company. An older woman understands older men. She might make him feel more at ease.
I have more reasons, but seven is a lucky number.
Here’s one last thought: What’s the most powerful sentence in the English language?
“What’s in it for me?”
When we are young and self-absorbed we ask that question all the time. What’s in it for me? As we get older and wiser, we learn to answer that question for others. If you want someone to hire you, ask yourself what’s in it for him. What does he (or she) get by having you in the company? To paraphrase an ex-president, “Ask not what the company can do for you, ask what you can do for the company.” Still good advice. Figure it out and you will win.
Nina DiSesa is chairman of McCann Erickson New York, and the author of Seducing the Boys Club, published by Ballantine Books