Last year at exactly this time, while I was working I must confess, being a sucker for a good ceremony, I was maintaining a watchful half eye on the biggest pageant the world has seen for a very long time – THE Royal Wedding. Keeping me company was an old friend and business associate – male.
I was somewhat surprised at his willingness to spend any time at all observing the frankly semi – hysterical, international orgy of girly gushing about frocks and fascinators, although a view of Pippa Middleton’s fine derrière seemed to make it all worthwhile. When I asked him why, he told me that as the CEO of a company which employs over 90% women, he feels he needs to at least be able to comment intelligently and engage on issues that interest the people who work for and with him. Women. He knew they would all have watched the ceremony, as well as the pre and post analysis ad nauseam and he wanted to be able to make a contribution. I passed an admiring comment on his open-mindedness and resilience – it was rather a protracted affair as you may recall.
His reaction took me by surprise. His perception was that it was a leadership obligation to understand the culture of his organization. It was just coincidence that in this case his employees happened to be all women. He went one step further and maintained that IHHO there was a general failing in women to do the same, suggesting that we women are remiss in taking no, or very little time, to engage or understand male culture and topics which are of interest men, simply bitching up a small storm about being excluded especially an interest in men’s sports.
Fast forward a year to the Brussels JUMP conference. One of the keynote speakers Jean-Charles Van den Branden gave an eloquent presentation on the barriers that women encounter in the workplace. One passing comment struck a memory chord. Hiring managers recruit and promote people they like and trust, which as a recruiter I know to be true. Jean-Charles cited that men for example like football (soccer in the US) and would feel more comfortable with candidates who have similar interests, because this forges a bond between them more easily.
Would it make a difference?
This is indeed bias by another name – gravitating towards people who are like you and think the same. Now I can’t help but wonder would it really make a difference if female candidates become conversant in the minutiae of the international transfer arrangements of the Premier League, tapped into the latest Spurs, Juventus or Barca gossip or took a position on the EUEFA cup final (May 19th Bayern Munich v Chelsea) rather than simply what’s going on with the WAGs? The world is full of women who are not only passionate about activities that are perhaps wrongly traditionally and stereotypically considered to be male areas of interest, as spectators, but as participants as well.
In the UK 1 in 4 of those who pass through the turnstiles is a woman. 33% of London marathon runners are women, whereas in New York the figure rises to 38%. According to Scarborough Marketing , 42 percent of the NFL’s total fan base is made up of women.
I didn’t know – so I asked around.
A key differentiator
Carys Osborne, Commercial Consultant at Optimal Media and Man U fan says “a definite yes.” Being able to explain the off side rule has made a real difference. “Working in the advertising industry, it is all about networking, building relationships with clients and having that personal touch. A knowledge of football instantly creates common ground with prospective clients. It adds something other than a sales pitch discussion to build a rapport. Company directors might not have much time to speak to sales callers, but they are happy to take 10 minutes out of their day to talk about last night’s game. As a woman able to have these discussions, you become memorable to people, which is key to success”.
I got a different perspective from Amy a Corporate Lawyer who is both a runner and a footie fan, with the London marathon and the 3 Peaks Challenge under her belt. Raised with three brothers learning about football wasn’t an option for her. She was however less sure that it advanced her career in what is the conservative, male dominated environment of the law. But she told me “ I think it all gives me additional respect. The 3 Peaks is particularly challenging and a lot of men don’t make it. It was irrefutable proof of my resilience, commitment and focus. Being interested in football means that I can genuinely participate in post work chat which undoubtedly helps office relationships”
A question of marketing
Anne Vandorpe, Consumer Sales and Marketing Manager at Sanoma Media, a soccer Mum and fan, plans to run the NYC marathon later this year. She suggested as a marketeer that “it’s all about knowing your market whether it’s consumer product users or male hiring managers “ and has always found her interest in sport extremely helpful professionally. She has a word of caution that it can be useful as a differentiator, but will exhaust itself if all women had the same level of enthusiasm in traditional areas of male interest. The natural scheme of things will result in men and women finding other ways of standing out.
Where is this headed?
So ladies, as someone who sadly wouldn’t know a penalty from a corner, is the message that we need to get out our football scarves or running shoes and show an interest in men’s sports, Should we make a better effort at taking an interest in stereotypical male activities and improve our all-round engagements in these areas of interest? Is this what we need to enhance our careers?
But where does this leave the concept of diversity? Isn’t it about accepting and benefiting from our differences? Don’t men and women alike need their own spaces or are we headed for a totally “metro-sexual” world? Shouldn’t we all be allowed to be who we are without it impacting our acceptance or credibility? And where does it leave the question of unconscious bias in the workplace? We should surely be looking for cultural value rather than cultural fit.
Or is all this requirement to show an interest in men’s yet another smoke screen? Should any of it matter at all?
What do you think?
Men and women please complete my LinkedIn poll ” Has an interest in any particular sport helped advance your career?”
One the most successful women I know is a huge football (soccer) fan. She was always able to engage with the team at any level and discuss with passion the weekends activities on the pitch along with the prospects of her team and those of her colleagues. Did this make a big difference? I think so it helped her gain respect and acceptance in a very male dominated environment. Having said that I think it’s important you be yourself, or you run the risk of being perceived as a fraud. You can’t just turn up to work one day and suddenly be a sports fan!
Thanks Mike I agree it’s important to be authentic and a mutual understanding of the interests of men and women can be helpful in building team spirit. But conversely those that are not interested in sport or royal weddings shouldn’t suffer either.