The boys’ club is alive and well. In fact, it still prevails. Male-dominated industries—from tech to Hollywood to politics—have continued to foster sexual harassment, gender discrimination and bullying. To add insult to injury, they have also continued to protect abusers and assailants.
It’s long past time to close the club. To do that, we have to break cycles of silence and shame. We have to give power back to the women who have been told not to speak up—and we have to protect them when they do.
I have lived in the boys’ club for over 20 years, during which I’ve climbed the ladder in the corporate world. It’s disheartening to say, but in the span of my career—since 1994—it feels like I have seen zero change. A culture of sexism and harassment has been a consistent part of every company I’ve ever worked for. And at each organization, I was taught not to challenge the boys or their club—as it could hurt my job, opportunities for advancement and my reputation.
I was told to stand down on such topics early on in my career, ironically by a woman who served then as a human resources director. I was having problems with my male manager at the time—they came not in the form of sexual harassment, but in the form of bullying and intimidation. A lot of the women on our team shared my experience and had faced the same behavior from him, and everyone was angry and confused, but weren’t sure what to do. I put my neck out to see how we could stop it.
“Holly, realize who you are going up against?” that HR Director told me when I finally called about my manager. “He has been with the company for years versus your short tenure. He is a well regarded manager. Just know that you will certainly not win in this situation.”
I didn’t know this was a contest.
This conversation stayed with me for years, and it kept me quiet. I was afraid to continue standing up for myself. I learned to be quiet and just accept men’s bad behavior, because they were going to “win” anyway. I continued to work for mostly male managers and consistently had similar situations and outcomes.
I’m not the only woman who has been stuck in this muck. The messages we receive in workplaces like these are that we don’t—and should not—have a voice. If we want to succeed, thrive and prosper, we better keep our mouths shut. The result? Women are trapped in a vicious cycle of silence and sexism.
That cycle keeps the boys’ club open.
The cycle stops now.
The men have insulated their pack. I can’t tell you how many times I have been at a work function and I’m just surrounded by men in golf shirts and khakis. Consider this their breeding ground. They tend to relate, promote and hire people just like themselves. Too often, they choose to stay in their comfort zone—expanding the pack and reinforcing its behavior.
Those men have been taught that treating women poorly is completely acceptable. Sexism is laughed at. Harassment is tolerated. I have seen this first hand, and I know where it ends. Unchecked sexism from one corner of a corporate office bleeds into the entire company culture, and soon everyone finds themselves laughing at sexist jokes and numb to the shock of witnessing or hearing about harassment. Soon everyone is playing their part in reinforcing that cycle—and women feel less and less hopeful that pathways to justice or change are open.
And women have been told to take the path of least resistance. When a woman comes out loudly about these issues, she puts herself in a situation where she will be attacked and basically told to accept it. There is a reason why it takes years for allegations against men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and even Donald Trump to surface. It can take years for women to talk about it and put themselves out there for criticism and comments. It can take years for women to find each other—and find solace in finally recognizing that they aren’t alone. And it takes a lot of courage and chutzpah to put yourself on the firing line.
But we can push back. We can work to finally close the doors to the boys’ clubs. And we can start with having bold conversations about what needs to change—and making examples of the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. To do that, we need to make room for women and girls to be vocal. They can no longer be afraid to speak up.
That’s on us. We need to prove to them that this is a fight they will win.