A political dilemma

2012

I am the only woman on the board of directors. Each time we have a board meeting the chairman ensures that the men partake in some kind of activity, mostly golf. I feel completely left out but the fact that I don't play golf and don't wish to spend time on a golf course apparently is my problem.

This year, I have just found out that he has decided to spend half of the board meeting to go on a wine tasting trip. I don't drink alcohol, whereas all the men do. He didn't consult with us to check if this was ok with any of us.

I feel really pushed aside. I have been with the company for 13 years and I am in charge of the finances for all our offices worldwide. Right now I feel like I am nothing. Part of me wants to burst into tears and the other part wants to scream "Surely you can't force people to do things they don't want to do!"

He views this as some kind of perk for us directors, to go and "enjoy the finer things in life". For me it's a slap in the face. What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Helen

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Mary-Louise Angoujard's Answer:

It sounds like you have a lot of emotion around this issue, which will continue to fester and ultimately undermine you if not addressed. Whereas you seem to be taking this personally, it is likely a matter-of fact situation that you can choose to approach from a position of strength and purpose, rather than allowing yourself to feel frustrated and/or without options.

Presuming you do a great job as the Global Financial Director and have not been left out of important meetings or decisions, the choice of activities by the Chairman is probably nothing to do with you.

Many would sympathise with your aversion to golfing days and wine-tasting sessions; in fact I know a lot of senior directors and Board members who socialise with their work colleagues because they have to, not because they want to they just put on a brave face and make the best of it, and retire early when they can.

They see it as another part of the job, if not necessarily one to be relished. They also see it as a chance to building important relationships by talking and interacting off-line with their Chairman, CEO/MD and Board Colleagues.

Shared positive experiences create trust and bonds between people, and demonstrating your positive, powerful qualities in a more informal setting will help to enhance your personal credibility and influence with others on the Board.

In this case you have several options for example you could:

  • Choose not to go, and be prepared to deal with the consequences of not "showing up" (both physically and figuratively). Not recommended since it is a snub to the hierarchy and your colleagues.
  • Pass on the golf/wine tasting events themselves and join the group for meals and any other activities that might be part of these events. Marginally better, although still not recommended since you would have missed out on some great bonding time.
  • Speak with the Chairman and suggest some ideas for the next few events. Be careful not to get sucked into the organisation of it, unless all Board Directors take turns organising these occasions.
  • Change your perspective: consider this from a different angle and make the best of the opportunity to increase your positive impact with the Board, enhance your personal brand and ultimately your influence so that you can wear your authority more effectively within your organisation. Recommended.

Working with the Academy for Political Intelligence, Rapporta's Organisational Politics for Women Programme provides women with proven thinking, tools and techniques for approaching organisational politics from a positive, productive perspective.

This issue often comes up as a "gender" issue when in fact it is more about Organisational Politics. Women often say they don't like "office politics" and don't engage in it yet the refusal to engage is already taking a position, and one that weakens your personal impact and influence as a Board Member.

When women learn to do organisational politics well, they get better results both for their organisation and for themselves.

About our Expert

Mary-Louise Angoujard
Mary-Louise Angoujard

Mary-Louise is founder and Managing Director of Rapporta has over ten years' experience as a professional speaker, trainer and executive coach.