Understanding the Unwritten Rules of Business

April 6, 2018

Everyone's life is governed by an internal code of conduct. Some call it morality. Others call it religion. A common popular term is The Bro Code.  Historically, unspoken traditions passed from one generation to the next in the business world has been the official code of conduct for Bros. There is a book about the Bro Code and it was famously touted on the former television show “How I Met Your Mother.”  But instead of using "Bro Code" as the name for this secret workplace society,  let's use “The Unwritten Rules of Business" since they're not just for the Bros.

 

Men seem to understand unwritten rules of engagement in the workplace and women often do not—that promotions, raises and entry into the executive suite are based on many factors, often difficult to quantify. Many women think the most important of these factors is education and hard work. However, most women I know have equal (or better) academic credentials and they work harder than the men. So why aren’t we running the world today? There must be something else.

 

That something else is what most men know: The Unwritten Rules of Business. They are familiar with the expectations for success in the workplace because those expectations have been ingrained in them since childhood. Men live and play in a business world that their forefathers created many years ago and perfected along the way. Rules are learned and mastered in Little League Baseball and Pee Wee Football. The men may not know the nuances of every single Rule (they can vary by company, industry, department), but at least they know that a game is being played and there are Rules to follow.

 

Those who think the key to getting ahead is to keep their heads down and do their jobs well—and even to work above and beyond what is expected of them—are missing an important part of the business landscape. A whole host of contests, competitions and codes is being played and followed around them. Most men understand and know how to use this informal system. Most women do not.

 

As one top (male) finance executive said to me: “Erin, there are just these unwritten rules—the men ‘get them’ and the women don’t.  And then a woman breaks one of the rules and the guys think, ‘What is she doing? She just broke one of the rules!’”

 

Because I played sports at a serious level when I was young—and in fact earned an athletic scholarship to college—I learned the Unwritten Rules at an early age. Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to those who didn’t have this opportunity.

 

First, three basic ground rules:  

               

1.       Those who get there first get to make the rules

2.       The rules apply to both men and women

3.       Follow the rules? Your choice

 

I talked about the first previously. The second is often not understood. Women are not the only ones who have to follow the Rules. The third is the most important. You are in control of your own career and get to decide if you want to follow the rules or not.

 

Research shows that most female leaders exhibit characteristics that are similar to those of their male peers. These women aren’t more masculine and don’t try to be something they’re not. However, they are aware of the Rules that contribute to the achievement of their business goals. Once you know the Rules exist, you can decide whether or how you want to play the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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