The Rule - Not the Exception

I landed my first Information Technology job about a year after graduating college. I was recruited along with five other graduates by a headhunter. I was really excited about the opportunity to work in my field of study and get paid for it. I thought the salary was great and I would be working with several of my friends from college. I now know that there were pros and cons to working alongside my friends.

One of the pros was that we could carpool together. That was a good thing because this new and wonderful job opportunity was 124 miles round trip from my parents’ house each day. One of the worse things about having been hired with a group of five friends was if one of us did something wrong then we were all chastised as a result. I didn't like being told not to wear open-toed sandals to work in the summer - that was a lesson I had already learned when I got my first summer job working for the Department of Energy at fifteen years old. I also didn't like having to sit in meetings where we were told not to talk on the phone, read the newspaper, wear tank tops or shorts, stand around and gossip. I called this management by exception.

That was the first of many experiences I had throughout my career where I found myself being chastised because someone else decided to break the rules, or management was changing the rules because of someone else’s bad habit or management was afraid that if they gave in to one person’s demands, they’d set a precedence that all others would want to follow.

So, when my turn came to make the rules I decided I wasn’t going to torture some poor soul by confronting the masses instead of addressing issues one-on-one. I established policies and procedures that help employees feel like they are an important part of the company, I made them readily available to everyone and requested acknowledgement of having received and understood them. I wanted them to understand how their efforts fit into the big picture. I thought surely no one wanted to endure what I did. When issues arose, I identified the responsible individuals and dealt with them individually.

But there were pros and cons to that decision as well. You see, rule breakers don’t like being singled out. It’s a lot more comfortable to be lost in the crowd – that way they don’t have to assume responsibility for having wasted everyone else’s time. They prefer to remain incognito and when you single them out, it can get pretty ugly because instead of changing the rules, most often you have to seek changes in the individual’s performance or behavior. I’ve been threatened, yelled at, written up, served resignations and called everything but a child of God.

In the end, I still prefer to manage using a set of rules that are beneficial to the masses and deal with the exceptions on an individual basis. I prefer to praise in public and criticize in private. Clearly communicating expectations by developing written policies and procedures eliminates a lot of confusion and makes it easier to deal with the exceptions.

Women Helping Women

Pink Magazine, in its May/June 2008 issue posed the following question to two female senior executives: Do women have a responsibility to help other women succeed in business? The women weighed in on both sides of the issue, with one stating that "helping other women succeed implies that women business owners need additional help", while the other respondent said "That's what the big guys do with junior men...Why shouldn't we do that for other women?"

Women business owners do need help and there's research data to prove it. I recently participated in a research study conducted by the Center for Women's Business Research. Their studies prove that women business owners, especially women of color, face a number of issues including, but not limited to: getting the necessary connections to decision makers, not being viewed as a standard of success, confronting unstated assumptions about the firm's ability to perform and gaining access to capital for business growth.

The Center's response has been to encourage women business owners to support one another by creating affinity groups to share information and contacts, educate one another, and leverage existing networks and access to decision makers. But, just having a network isn't enough. Studies show that women's networks are smaller and less effective than their male counterparts.

So, what's a woman to do? Women have to begin creating and expanding their own networks like other minority groups. The Asian American community has successfully built a financial network that provides its members with up to 24% of the funding they need to grow their businesses. It's a successful networking model and women business owners should take notice.

Women business owners need to learn how to use networks to their advantage by becoming integrated into networks that are predominately male. It is better to have connections in many networks rather than many connections in one. Women have to seek out seminars, coaching and education to expand your network and grow their businesses.

I think we do have a responsibility to help other women and I think men have set one example for how to do it. The "good old boy's" network is not just a euphemism. It's real and as far as I can tell, it's been pretty effective at building and expanding business. So, if women don't look out for one another, who will?