Q: I manage a small business of about 15 employees, about half male and half female. We all work closely in the same building and everyone gets along pretty well.
Lately, I’ve noticed a tendency for employees to group themselves by gender when socializing or having a casual conversation in the break room. And when someone is looking for co-workers to go to lunch with generally the men go together and –separately- the women go together.
The reason I’m concerned is that a couple of women in the past have commented about a “boy’s club” at work. Should I be worried?
A: Yes. Somewhat worried.
Whether it is our race, our age or our gender, there is a natural predisposition for us to want to spend time with people similar to us. At work, we are thrown together and while we can all work and get along well with each other , when we want to “take a break” or go to lunch and “recharge” in the middle of the day, we gravitate to being around those with whom we feel relaxed and comfortable.
That might mean that guys will want to hang out with guys and gals with gals. Who can blame us, right?
Well, just because it’s a natural tendency and comfortable to group ourselves, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing in the workplace, especially if upper management is of a certain gender. In your case, it sounds like there’s already a perception that there’s a “boy’s club”, and that’s a red flag that could later turn into a claim of discrimination. This means you should come up with ways that allow ALL your employees to informally interact. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are males and females equally represented among my management/professional staff?
- If most of management is male, would a female junior staff feel just as comfortable as her male counterpart joining male managers for lunch? (probably not) And if not, what can you do to remedy that? In other words:
- What can I do so that similarly placed employees (in rank, tenure) of both genders feel comfortable socializing and interacting with management?
- What casual events or activities (birthday lunch? Bring your pet to work?) would create opportunities to mingle?
You get the gist. The key is to make informal access to power equally likely for all genders. The solution to the problem is rather simple (but not easy. )
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