Over dinner, my male colleague and I were discussing a proposal he’d just submitted for a major program with one of his biggest clients. If he wins, it will be not only a large chunk of revenue, but a transformational contract in terms of the products, scale and reach of his business. “You’ve done a fabulous job on the bid”, I said, “You really deserve to win. I’d love to hear how you get on, preferably over a glass of something fizzy.” His reply: “Oh, don’t worry, if we win it, you won’t be able to see me for champagne bottles. I’ve told the guys, if we win this we are having a team offsite to kick start the project somewhere about an hour South of Geneva…….”
And it occurred to me: women don’t do this. If that was a team of women, or a team led by women, we might celebrate with something sensible; perhaps a lunch near the office, within budget, something that doesn’t look too ostentatious or immodest.
Instead, we create networks of women where all we have in common is our ‘diversity’ characteristic. Meanwhile, the guys continue doing what they’ve always done: communing around sports/subject matter expertise/race cars/steam trains (pick your interest of choice). They get together, have fun and do something impressive at the same time. No wonder their networks work.
During this same dinner, my colleague said that working with me is like working with his closest male colleague (he meant it as a compliment); we talk about work stuff and something good comes out of it. I agree. But my impression of working with him is that getting to the good business stuff doesn’t take up all our time, it isn’t hard work, and frankly, it isn’t so contrived and earnest as what I do with my women’s network.
Having been closely involved with women’s networks for a few years now, I’m not convinced that this is the way forward. I’m not convinced that women need “developing”. What I’m sure of, is that they need to operate with more of a team spirit than they typically do, they need to join up their personal and professional relationships, and they need to make time for this. Men network by doing things together based on shared interests, or by going for a beer after work. I’ve never yet been invited for a spontaneous beer-after-work by a female colleague (whether you drink alcohol or not is irrelevant; beer-after-work, like tea, is an event not a drink). Neither have I invited other women spontaneously. But I have done beer-after-work with plenty of men. And plenty of good business has come from it.