This a text version of the talk description from Duy-Loan T. Le's keynote speech at Grace Hopper 2010. You can get the relevant page of the program in PDF here or get the entire program PDF here.


"The good old boys network! It is so exclusive. I feel so left out!"

How many times have we women heard other women make those statements, or similar ones? When I first heard about "the good old boys' network," I wondered what it was and did not give it much thought afterwards. But when I started hearing it again and again, I asked myself if it does exist ... and most importantly what can us women do about it?

A few years ago, I sat in a meeting with several VPs at work. I was the only woman present, which was nothing new since not much had changed since I started more than a quarter of a century ago. We were discussing how to get certain things done and the debate heated up. In my usual humorous and confident style, I smiled and said very deliberately: "Women are always right and women always get their way!"

My male colleagues laughed a good laugh with me. Then one gentleman, let's just call him Mr. Jones, said rather matter-of-factly, "I have never thought of you as a woman!" I laughed and replied, "That is one of the best compliments I have ever received in my professional life!"

Later I shared that incident with several young female engineers and asked them what they thought about that exchange. Several said that they were personally insulted by Jones' comment. Others were surprised by my response and could not quite understand why I replied the way I did.

To be honest, given the limited context of the story, it is not surprising that some, if not many, women would feel insulted if men didn't see them as women. A puzzled reaction to my comment in response is also understandable and, rightfully so, it warrants an explanation.

Now the truth is that Jones and I have always been able to communicate, collaborate, and overcome whatever challenges we faced while we worked on developing advanced technologies for our company. Some of the challenges are technically tough. To him, I am simply a capable, competent technologist who is easy to work with. So in the end, gender was a moot point for both of us, a non-factor in our great work relationship.

This kind of relationship allowed us to work extremely well with each other on many tough challenges. We are able to set up time each week to discuss progress and formulate strategies and felt obligated to keep each other informed real time of potential issues that were not obvious in meetings or group discussions. In other words, we developed trust, friendship and a deep respect for each other and felt comfortable talking about what was on our mind. Neither of us feared being politically incorrect with each other.

To be clear, the relationship described is not just between Jones and me, but also between me and the rest of the VPs as well. Everyone took the statement the same way I took it and the same way he meant it. As a matter of fact, one other gentleman jokingly added after my reply: "be nice to her ... she is one of us... and yes she often gets her way!" [sic]

What played out in that room that day demonstrates, in my opinion, an ultimate requirement one must have in order to be part of a group: camaraderie! If we women can appreciate how important camaraderie is when working with men - and our part in fostering it - the good old boys' network becomes a lot less exclusive and less of a barrier.

We women have this sense of bonding that some might call 'sisterhood'. What is it? It is a sense of friendship full of trust, respect and openness. Because of that we feel comfortable sharing all kinds of information, enjoying each other's presence, joking with each other, and are willing to be there to help one another get better. In other words, there is a sense of belonging among members of the sisterhood. Well, men are no different. Their needs are no different from ours.