The Boys Club
I was sitting with one of my clients having lunch in her company’s cafeteria when the topic of discussion turned to men and women in the workplace. “The business world is still a boys’ club”, she said.
“I can’t really argue with that,” I acknowledged. “But I would like to think that things are much better these days. After all, just 10 years ago there were almost no women executives at this company. Now there are quite a few, many such as yourself in senior positions.”
“True”, she said, “but everything about the workplace is still male oriented if not male dominated. If you don’t believe me, just listen to how many times male employees use sports analogies in everyday work. You probably don’t even notice it most of the time, but listen for it and you might be amazed”.
As it happened, I had a meeting with a project team working on a strategy and plan for the launch of a major new product. Of the 12 or so people in the room, 3 were women. I decided to make note of any sports analogies that came up during the meeting, and who said them. I expected to hear at least a few.
As the participants came in and found their seats, the (male) product manager flipped on an overhead projector and said, “Welcome to the planning team kickoff meeting”. Okay, that was the first one.
During the next 90 minutes, I counted no less than 12 sports analogies or references, and I say that because I suspect I missed a few. A guy from finance commented that “we really need to hit a home run on this one”. When asked if the product was “ready for the big leagues”, the development team leader said “we are right at the goal line”. One aspect of the launch strategy was described as “a way to stiff arm the competition”. One person in the room received the assignment to work on the tactical launch plan with the words, “Charlie, you your people take care of the blocking and tackling”. There were more.
Every one of the analogies came from a male member of the group. The women in the room did not seem to mind, nor did it appear that they did not understand the meanings of the phrases. But when the women spoke, and two of them were equal participants in the discussion throughout the meeting, they never once used a sports analogy or phrase.
Today, women’s sports are more prevalent than ever, and women are competing in a variety of sports once reserved for men. Still, I rarely here a woman in a meeting or work situation spontaneously use a sports analogy. And I must admit that I often catch myself saying something like “They threw us a curve ball on that one”, without even thinking about it.
The “Don Shula versus Chuck Noll” post was a deliberate sports reference, and one that I learned at a fairly early point in my career. Yet, I am not sure I could think of another, non-sports related analogy to explain the concept. Then again, I didn’t really try.
So here’s a challenge – next time you and your colleagues are standing around in the coffee room, see how many sports analogies you can identify that appear frequently in your company. It just takes one person to step up to the plate and get the ball rolling . . . .
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