Myth No. 8 — The Good-Old-Girl Network is Alive and Well

OK, pick a subject and take a side, because this is how it is or isn’t, depending on who blinks first. I want to find out what you believe about gender bias in construction, from the trap door to the glass ceiling. The truth, at least as I see it, is bias exists either because you want it to, or because you allow it to since you don’t care, or it’s no big deal.

I received a very nice letter from a longtime reader who said she is running into the good-old boy-network when it comes to getting on the inside with subs, suppliers and the like. She asked if I would write about it and suggest how to overcome it — whatever “it” is. I asked some questions and sure got a wide variety of answers. We’ll spend a couple or three columns talking about the issues raised by those answers.

Yes, bias exists

Friends, gender bias in residential construction exists in virtually all phases of the industry, but only as a secondary issue. The primary bias is based on competency, pretty much as it always has been. Does a good-looking salesperson who knows the product inside and out have an advantage? Dadgum right he/she does, and there is nothing new about that. From a charming person who sold me garage doors for years, to the plumbing fixture salesperson from whom I bought tubs, toilets and lavs enough for the 101st Airborne division, to the lumber seller doing my takeoffs, to the cabinet top purveyor, to the lighting fixtures expert and so on and so on — they all have one thing in common: They are all either male or female (three of one and two of the other). They most definitely comprise a good-old-boy (GOB) or a good-old-girl (GOG) network. Everybody who has been in business very long has a GOB or a GOG network because these are people with whom we like to do business. These networks are only a bad thing when we are on the outside wanting in. That’s when we sometimes yell “foul.”

Are there some people who might stoop to using male or female wiles to get business? I hope to salute the world’s truly oldest profession — sales. There are. Frankly, anyone who buys based on this approach deserves what they get. If the product offering is presented wrapped in sex appeal or entertainment and someone buys it, the buyer is, of course, an idiot and isn’t long for the business world anyway.

I believe that guys run into a good-old-boy network more often than do the gals because they are less polite and want to figure out how to crack the barrier. Are there women who will flirt a little to get a foot in the door? Of course, and it works some of the time. I can’t speak to the same approach on the other side, but I guess it does and so what? Are there disadvantages? Sure, take for instance a buyer opting for a provider to satisfy minority- or woman-owned business enterprises (MWBE) requirements. There’s no question there is pressure to purchase from a properly qualified MWBE operation over one that is not, but price does rear its ugly head at some point. I know of two companies which are very successful with their products — great service and quality, priced competitively and community oriented — both of whom are woman-owned. Can I compete with them, everything being equal, as a male who is not MWBE? I think not, but so what? You will find other customers, if you’re worth your salt.

Ability counts

Most of the best businessmen I know are completely gender-bias free when it comes to ability. Guess what? Those folks who have a common responsibility and share a common goal are people who look and act differently. If they perform well, it is very, very seldom because they are male or female. They are people, and people are different. We can and should live with that and not rely on a pot full of idiotic rules as a substitute for sound judgment.

I want to hear from you about problems and issues. We’ll tackle them anonymously, but let’s talk about how to enjoy doing business and what hurdles we face, gender-based or not, and see how we can junk them. I have neither tried to minimize nor sensationalize this issue but rather to deal with it and to remove it as an impediment. I won’t know if I have vexed you or if you think I’m on your side unless I hear from you. Or I suppose you could pass along a hint by either “seat up or seat down,” while you’re here...