Executive Women in Business - How To Play The Game


Does A Female Who Desires To Move Up Into The Executive Ranks Of A Male-Dominated Organization Have To “Play The [Man’s] Game” In Order To Advance Her Career?

This question was posed to a group of women partners at a PricewaterhouseCoopers Women’s Conference in the early 1990’s. I was one of those women partners and this question forced me to reflect upon my own career track to partner. At that time, women comprised less than 10% of the pwc partners – the senior executive rank of this organization was clearly male-dominated.

There were many diverse opinions by the women partner group as to what parts of the “game” they had played and several believed that it was not necessary to play the game at all. My experience was that a woman had to learn and play the game in order to gain the support of the male executives. Once she was part of the senior executive ranks, she would then have the ability to influence new rules that would be more women-friendly.

What Does The “Play The Game” Entail?

Following is a list of those activities that are positive components of the “game” and those items which are no-no’s:


  • Knowledgeable of and conversant about sports

    Reading the sports section of the daily newspaper; following and learning about a local team in the seasonal sport (Football in the Fall, Basketball in the Spring, Baseball in Summer); finding a sport you really enjoy – all are ways to develop your knowledge of sports and be able to make meaningful contributions in conversations with men.

  • Golfing

    Take lessons, learn to golf, and learn the betting games played at the golf course. 4+ hours on the course in a golf cart is a wonderful way to develop business relationships with men.

  • Seeking out a male mentor

    One of the most important career enhancements is a mentor. A male executive can give you advice and be an advocate for you. Having drinks or golfing with the guys provides an environment for identifying a mentor.

  • Comfortable with bantering

    Watch how the men banter and make fun of each other. They do not take any comments personally. Practice and become comfortable with this form of teasing.

  • Taking credit - “I” not “we”

    For some reason, this item seems to be one of the more difficult tasks to incorporate into women’s vocabulary. Consciously and proactively take the opportunity to articulate and take credit for your own accomplishments.


  • Not supporting other women

    I have observed the queen bee syndrome where a woman believes that she made it on her own and that all younger women need to do the same without any help from her. One of my favorite quotes is from former Secretary of State and Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright: "There is a place in hell for women who don't help other women". Women need to help other women.

  • Collusion

    Worse than not supporting other women is blatantly unsupporting them. Do not engage with men (or women) in making sexist or degrading comments about women. Remaining quiet while such comments are made can be construed as concurrence.

I have provided a short list of some Do’s and Don’ts in playing workplace games. However, advancing ones career requires more than playing these games well; the most important factors are hard work and competencies.

K. Sue Redman President, Redman Advisors LLC

K. Sue Redman is a former partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers and has been a director and chair of the audit committee of Apollo Group, Inc. since 2006. She is also the President of Redman Advisors LLC, a private consulting firm specializing in the areas of enterprise risk management, corporate finance, accounting and strategy. She can be contacted at ksueredman@gmail.com. Her LinkedIn profile can be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/sueredman.

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