Women are still outnumbered in the top jobs in Britain, and they experience unequal pay and promotion prospects at all levels. This is despite more than 30 years of equal opportunities legislation and attempts by employers to improve the gender balance.
Efforts to tackle inequality tend to focus on the formal barriers to women’s progression. But they fail to address the informal processes and relationships that disadvantage women at work, such as exclusion from powerful male networks. The old boy’s network is still alive and well in many organisations.
Girlfriends in High Places argues that professional networks can enhance individual career prospects while enabling women to work together to tackle workplace inequality. Women’s professional networks can provide the kind of confidence-building support which men are good at providing for each other through their informal networks.
Women’s exclusion from the old boy’s network happens for a number of reasons, from missing out on after-hours pub outings because of childcare commitments to the sexual politics of the office, which make it harder for women to build professional relationships with men.
Based on detailed interviews with professional women in the public and private sector, this report argues that women’s networks are altering the balance of gender power at work. By facilitating new relationships between women, networks disrupt the patterns of social connectivity that have favoured men for so long.
Member-based organisations are a growing phenomenon across many industries and sectors in the UK. They provide opportunities for women to share experiences, make new contacts and access professional development opportunities.
The research project was funded by Norman Broadbent, a recruitment consultancy, and five UK government departments: the Cabinet Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the Department of Health.