How to conquer the boys club

How to conquer the Boys Club

Named in 2014 as an AFR Top 100 Woman of Influence, Sydney-based Jenny Morris is CEO of Orijen. A psychologist and culture change expert, she has spent years coaching and mentoring women in the workplace. Jackie Dent, from Clear Spot Club, spoke to her about the issues stopping women from moving forward in their careers.

You’ve been working in this space for over 30 years.  What is one of the biggest problems you see with women getting ahead at work?

The problem is complex but one major issue is that women are often excluded from progressing due to the boys club.  For the men in power, it’s easier to identify and promote someone who is “just like me”.

What is the boys club?

They play golf together, they cycle together, they attend sporting events and they go for drinks after work, all of which exclude women, especially if they have children. The other issue is that the club assumes that women are not ambitious, especially those with wives who do not work.

Can we blame it all on the boys club? 

Not always. I often see women choose not to progress up the ladder due for a range of reasons.

One of the biggest reasons is that there is a lack of effective female role models.  Also, those women who have made it pull up the drawbridge behind them — I call it the Queen Bee syndrome.  These women are often more alpha than the men!

A lack of confidence is also a massive problem.  Talented women are often unwilling to expose themselves because the spotlight is often in women leaders and expectations are higher.  They also don’t realise that the higher you get up the ladder, the game changes. They don’t know the new ‘ unwritten rules’ —  I call it their unconscious incompetence.

Why do so many average men get ahead while talented women can be stuck?

Men designed the game so they know how to play it!  Many male leaders went to private boys schools and have never had to sit at the table with a woman as an equal.  They also have have wide networks and use them —  school and particularly sport.  An average man is also much more comfortable with promoting himself.

One of your adages is “fake it til you make it” — is that what the blokes are doing?

Yes but not necessarily consciously. They actually believe in their ability. The accepted wisdom is that men apply for jobs when they only have 40% of the skills needed — they apply on the basis of potential while women wait until they have 100% of the criteria — they apply on the basis of performance.

For those who don’t know what it is — what is unconscious bias and how does it impact on women in the workplace?

Decisions are often made on untested assumptions. For example, women aren’t ambitious, women won’t want to travel, women want kids, women with kids are not committed to work.  These are the unconscious biases that are never identified or tested, but they impact on and drive decisions.

Some could argue that women are not doing anything “wrong” but it’s the system needs to change.  How do we change the system?

There are lots of things we can all do. Male Champions of Change, for example, are refusing to speak at functions if there are not equal numbers of women speakers.  We also need to ensure equal number of women and men are on recruitment panels.  Flexible working conditions for both sexes is crucial.

But fundamentally it’s about critical mass.  If we have equal numbers of women on executive teams, we will change the culture to one that is more inclusive and equitable. We need to equip women to play the game but with authenticity — so they can lead in a way that’s different to the men but doesn’t go against their personal integrity.

Jenny will be speaking alongside Yolanda Beattie at Clear Spot Club’s first event on Feb 22. You can buy tickets here.  

The first two Women’s Agenda readers to send an email to will receive a free ticket.  

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