Build an ‘Old Girls Network’

dw_phoneBoys club
Picture this: Rookie walks into the bar for a beer after work. He strikes up conversation with Mr. Career Man while watching the football game. They talk sports… and they talk business.

Mr. Career Man thinks the kid’s got potential, gives him advice, and they continue to meet. Eventually, Rookie meets Mr. Career Man’s other pals. Without forcing anything, they form a friendship—along with a mentorship and a helping network for the Rookie.

How often do women do this for each other? Rarely.

Flying solo
I posed the question to some female colleagues at my job recently: “Why don’t women reach out to each other more?”

The answer: “Oh, haven't you heard of the women’s organization here at work?” Ugh. That’s not what I meant. Why don’t women cross generational and professional boundaries to develop relationships that mix business and pleasure? Why, in short, don't we have an "old girls network"?

Although I know older women who could be mentors, our connection stops at friendship. We all seem to obey an unspoken rule: It's not cool to mix personal and business. Now that I've been out in the working world a few years, I see a wealth of missed opportunities because women don't buddy up like men do.

I often wonder what stops women from building those casual work-and-play relationships. I wonder if older women think the younger ones are only trying to use them? I have to admit that I feel a wave of guilt if I attempt to create a friendship with an older women that could also help me out. So I avoid it.

I understand, of course, that there are some wonderful organizations out there that were created to help women build networks (National Association of Women Business Owners, Business Women’s Network, Advancing Women). But what about fostering connections as natural as the "old boys club" that many men seem to have?

Maybe we devalue ourselves and think we don’t have much to offer. Maybe we feel a sense of perfectionism in that we have to meet X, Y, Z criteria before we can mentor someone else—or accomplish A, B, C tasks before we feel it’s OK to ask for help.

Maybe it’s more sinister: I’ve heard that some older women feel that since they’ve had to struggle, they think the young ones should struggle, too (which makes me think, then what the heck was the point of the feminist movement?).

Or maybe we’re threatened by each other. Sometimes we even derail each others’ success à la "Mean Girls." According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, women bullies aim at other females more than 70% of the time!

Do you have to be best friends with every woman you meet? Of course not. But let’s not close ourselves off from each other, and be more open to letting honest, mentoring camaraderie develop naturally. There's no need to join a dues-collecting organization to help each other out. That’s not how the boys do it. Men are buddy-buddy with each other because it has helped them build professional and political success for centuries.

Join me in starting the old girls club revolution today. Where will you start?

Kenia Perez works in the aerospace industry in California.

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