Labor & Employment

'Boys Clubs' can be a source of workplace gender bias, partner says


Business leaders often criticize gender discrimination at other companies without realizing they’ve also created a corporate culture that marginalizes women, Duane Morris employment partner Jonathan Segal recently wrote in a column for CNN Money.

The piece mentions a $100 million sex-discrimination case filed May 9 against pharmaceutical giant Merck. Besides maintaining that the company discriminated against pregnant employees as well as individuals who took family-medical leave, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey complaint (PDF) alleges that male junior employees have more opportunities to socialize with management than their female colleagues. The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status, Reuters reports.

Segal, a Philadelphia lawyer who does compliance work, notes that an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission plan, which seeks to eliminate systemic barriers in hiring, will likely focus on promotions as well.

The agency refers to the issue as “like me” bias, Segal writes, in which leaders hire, mentor and sponsor individuals who are like them.

“But I suspect something else is going on here. The best way for me to explain it is to recount a conversation I had with a client. We were discussing a Boys’ Club case at another company. It was a typical story—an informal network of drinking buddies created a culture in which men were included and women were marginalized,” he writes. “Note: alcohol is often the glue that keeps the club together and the neighborhood drinking hole the unregistered address.”

The client told Segal that said he’d never want to work at a place like that. Segal reminded him that his company had no women in senior leadership.

“It’s hard for many people to believe that their organization could have a Boys’ Club. That they could be part of a Boys’ Club is inconceivable because it is inconsistent with how they see themselves,” Segal wrote. “In some ways, such denial is not unlike the denial of addiction. The first step in recovery is acknowledging the problem. The first step toward dismantling a Boys’ Club is to acknowledge it may exist.”

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