The Death Of The Boys Club

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A 2013 internal workplace review at the Calgary Police Services report specifically called out the “Old Boys Network” as being an underlying cause of a culture of bullying, harassment, intimidation and retaliation. A culture which undermines respect, workplace civility and accountability.

Sadly the Old Boys Network is alive and well in far too many organizations. Several years ago, I began working for a manager who relied heavily on the Old Boys approach to running his department and I distinctly remember the day that I was invited to join the club. We were in a meeting with all the key divisional leaders (all men) and had our sales manager on speakerphone.

The previous week, my manager had tried to get in touch with the Dave but he was not in the office and the receptionist would not give him his cell phone number, she would only take a message. My manager was livid!

So in our meeting my manager said to the sales manager, “You have a problem with that receptionist!”

The receptionist worked for the property management company that Dave rented an office from (she acted as receptionist for all tenants in the building). Dave acknowledged that he had been having some challenges with her and had already spoken to the property management company about trying to get a replacement for her.

My manager gave the sales manager an ultimatum, “You have two choices, you can fire her, or you can f#%k her, and if you fire her, f#%k her first.” The entire room broke out into hysterical laughter. I really couldn’t believe what I had heard and I couldn’t believe that all my new colleagues were heartily laughing along with something as crude and disrespectful as that. I refused to join in.

My manager slowly turned to me and glared as if to say, “How dare you not laugh at my joke”. I glared back at him, knowing that I would never be accepted in the this old boys club. I began looking for a job immediately after that meeting because I knew my career had hit a wall and my manager would make my life a living hell if I stayed.

The Boys Club tends to be found in male dominated organizations but often does include women who are willing to pay the price of admission. They are characterized by favouritism, suppression of ideas and suggestions, and the ‘bribe, promise and threat’ processes used to get ahead or avoid accountability by overlooking, tolerating and rewarding bad behavior.

The good news is, there are many indicators that tell us that the age of the Boys Club and the debilitating command and control organizations they oversee is increasingly failing their shareholders and our society. Old school incumbents are being overthrown by upstarts, such as Google, who promote collaboration and commitment to values.

Organizations that embrace the Old Boys Network will never be able to realize the tremendous upside of having an accountable workforce. They will not be able to harness the innovative potential of their people or realize the cost savings that come with a workforce who are committed to their responsibilities, their customers and their stakeholders.

Can the Old Boys Network continue to be as successful in a more competitive future as they have been in the past?

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