Old Boys Network
Old Boys Network refers to the mix of social and business connections that persons—usually white men—have access to because of their educational background, socio-economic status, or other pathways into these social networks.
Old Boys Networks are created whenever pipelines to opportunity are reserved to a select group of people. For example, Harvard College, one of the US’s most elite schools, exposes its students and alumni to many social networks that are not open to people that did not attend.
Generally, Old Boys Networks work to the detriment of women as a group as well as persons of color. This is because structural racism and past and current sexism within society at large as well as within particular sectors means that opportunities to gain access to the “right” schools or professions was closed off to the majority of non-white males for generations. Though recent gains in education and professional advancement have made rising to the top possible for minorities and women, it is nevertheless difficult for them to create the connections needed to enter the highest levels of management.
Something important to remember about structural barriers to opportunity is that the same person might fall within more than one category of people against whom structural barriers to opportunity exist. This means, for example, that a Black woman faces barriers to opportunity that are compounded by her race and gender. To better understand the ways that multiple identities can be compounded, and thus multiple kinds of oppression are compounded, we use the term intersectionality, which was coined by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw.
Introduction to Intersectionality
Intersectionality is a concept that enables us to recognize the fact that perceived group membership can make people vulnerable to various forms of bias, yet because we are simultaneously members of many groups, our complex identities can shape the specific way we each experience that bias. For example, men and women can often experience racism differently, just as women of different races can experience sexism differently, and so on. As a result, an intersectional approach goes beyond conventional analysis in order to focus our attention on injuries that we otherwise might not recognize. The illustration below represents what it means to move beyond conventional forms of group and issue-based intervention. It demonstrates that the groups in question are not mutually exclusive, but are in fact multidimensional. Internally each group has multiple characteristics that must be considered in shaping advocacy and public policy. Whether those goals are equal opportunity, fair immigration policies, equitable pay, a just criminal justice system, or more inclusive visions of equal citizenship, the multidimensionality of these groups must be factored into the equation. These goals can be advanced by using an intersectional prism to 1) analyze social problems more fully; 2) shape more effective interventions; and 3) promote more inclusive coalitional advocacy.
Luckily, discussion of structural barriers to opportunity has been more widely discussed in the last couple decades. Those interested can, on a somewhat regular basis, spot articles in general interest news magazines and newspaper discussing the latest studies on promotion of women in executive positions and minority recruitment.
Along with more open discussion of past and current barriers to opportunity, many writers and sociologists alike have adopted terminology that is group specific, as a way to discuss the particular kinds of barriers that members of a particular group may face. Development of special group specific terminology is useful—it acknowledges that while many different marginalized groups face barriers to opportunity, the kinds of barriers they face may be different depending on their background, gender, education level, or their various privileges. To help you navigate current discussions on barriers to achievement, we have gathered some common and some not so common terms and phrases for you to learn about below.
The Glass Ceiling is a metaphor used to refer to the barriers that women—though sometimes this same metaphor is extended to cover racial minorities as well—face when seeking opportunities for advancement in the workplace. The idea behind the metaphor is that women encounter a kind of metaphorical glass ceiling, where they can see opportunities for promotion within their “employment track,” but there is an artificial barrier between merit-based promotions and actual promotion.
Learn more about the Glass Ceiling.
The Bamboo Ceiling refers to the barriers faced by Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the equal opportunity race. Much like in the case of the Glass Ceiling, the Bamboo Ceiling describes the structural barriers the deny Asian Americans merit based promotions and access to opportunities purely on the basis of race.
Learn more about the Bamboo Ceiling.
The Glass Closet refers to the barriers that gay people face, usually in the workplace. Though studies show that more and more people have come out by the time they enter the workplace, many people feel the need to be closeted at work because of real or perceived biases against gay people. This occurs in no small part because of the prevailing assumption that all people are heterosexual until proven otherwise. This means that if you have not shared your sexual orientation with your superiors or colleagues then they will likely assume you are straight. Because of the underlying assumption that most people are straight, many people find themselves reentering the closet in the work context, even if they are fully out in their everyday life otherwise.
In the context of Good Old Boys Networks the pressure to conform to straight male stereotypes often makes disclosing that you are gay all the tougher. As you have already learned, a significant aspect of the Good Old Boys Network is asserting that you belong and that you are somehow like all the other people you want to associate with. This can be, as you can imagine, difficult to do if you do not fit the “model” straight member profile.
Access to elite clubs and networks is one of the primary ways that Old Boys Networks systemically exclude women and racial minorities from opportunities. However, not all closed or semi-closed networks are correctly labeled as examples of Good Old Boys Networks. This section explores the differences between Good Old Boys Networks and other closed networks such as Professional Organizations.
A Professional Organization is usually a nonprofit group formed by and for members with a common professional interest. Examples in the US are: the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association. These groups, as their names suggest, are associations closed to people entering or already in the legal and medical professions, and their membership is closed.
Though these groups have closed membership, they are not rightly labeled Good Old Boys Networks. Instead, these groups close entry to just people that have a deep vested interest in their chosen profession and want to associate and meet with other professionals in their areas.
Can Professional Organizations Ever Be Good Old Boys Networks?
The short answer is: Yes! What is important to remember about Good Old Boys Networks is that they can be made by choice or by accident—meaning the members of the network need not intend to exclude others because of their race, gender, and/or sexual orientation. If groups make concerted efforts to make sure that all people that are interested in their professional, are capable of performing the duties required, and are aided in accessing the needed study materials, mentorship, and other help required to enter the profession then they have taken big steps towards avoiding creating a Good Old Boys Network.