The Not So Old Girls' Club: Who You Need to Succeed

Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on startup equity, including founders on their personal interests and executives and key contributors on offer negotiation, compensation design and acquisition terms. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or at

Working with a great network can make career success much easier (and perhaps simply possible) to achieve.

When women talk about advancing their careers, they often talk about their lack of an “old boys’ club” to move them forward. In particular, women in the tech industry are uniquely aware of their need for a network because of their minority status. Without a built-in network, smart women in tech are thoughtfully constructing their own.

Mentors Far and Wide

The first step in building a network is recognizing that it takes a community to build a career and then committing to not go it alone. After they make this commitment, networkers find that informal mentors start to appear from far and wide to guide their paths.

According to Patricia K. Gillette, Esq., a partner in the employment law group at Orrick in San Francisco, “A mentor is someone, and I think it’s a variety of people in your life, who are going to help you navigate certain aspects of your life, whether it's your personal life, whether it's your work life, whether it's how you exercise, whether it's what you do for fun.”

Mentors are people you feel comfortable with. As Pat notes, “They're people who know you and are going to respond to you in a caring way and thoughtful way.

Diversity is important to get great perspectives. “They do not have to look like you,” Pat says. “They do not have to be the same gender or race. They don't have to be you.”

There will be many mentors in a well-connected life, but mentors are only one piece of the network necessary for advancing a career.

Sponsors within Your Organization

A sponsor is necessary in order to advance in an organization. A sponsor is someone in a very high position of leadership who advocates on one’s behalf within the organization.

A sponsor is going to “advocate for ways for you to increase your power within the organization either on the work side or on the leadership side on the economic side on the business building side,” Pat says. “You have to find a sponsor and you have to make sure you click with that sponsor and that that sponsor is willing to advocate for you. That's the way you advance within firms.”

A sponsor is completely different from a mentor. According to Pat, a sponsor is not someone to ask, “‘Where shall I stand in court? Shall I file this brief early?’ That's not what this person is.” In fact, Pat says, “a sponsor is someone who you may not like so much. A sponsor is somebody who is going to take you and say, 'The next thing you should do within the organization if you want to assume a position of power is X. And I'm going to talk to my friends within the organization to say that they ought to consider you.' That's very different from a mentor.”

What a sponsor offers is not based on altruism. To have this relationship, “you not only have to be ready, willing and able to ask, but you also have to be willing to offer something in return,” Pat says. “Usually what you offer in return is support for that person, either by being exactly as you said you were going to be - meaning you're really highly qualified and anxious and willing to accept positions of power within the organization. And also by making sure that you support that person in whatever causes he or she may have.”

See Pat’s presentation, Elimination of Bias - Women in the Law: Flying the Coop on the Wings of Economic & Institution Power, available from Lexvid: Continuing Professional Education.


Finally, professionals provide services to help guide a career and financial path.

For example, financial planner Meg Bartelt, CFP®, MSFP, Founder and President, Flow Financial Planning, LLC, works with women in the tech industry. She knows that good financial planning isn’t enough if a woman’s career is flagging, which it often can in an industry notoriously unwelcoming to women. Part of her role is to help her clients connect to a larger network of professionals who can help them advance their careers, which in turn benefits their finances and helps them build wealth and financial strength. She started the list below based on her experiences of professionals who have helped her clients, and the list is growing as other women are adding ideas based on their own experiences.

A great network of professionals might include:

  • Recruiters and hiring managers for networking and job placement

  • Financial planners for managing wealth, making important financial decisions, and considering career moves from a financial perspective

  • Attorneys for negotiation of employment contracts, stock compensation, and intellectual property matters

  • Accountants for tax planning and estate planning

  • Career and leadership coaches for individual contributors who want to move to the management level or move from there to C-level roles, or to help with participation in and running meetings, finding places to speak and be on panels or interact with senior colleagues and peers

  • Public speaking coach for women wishing to improve their personal brand by speaking at conferences or even presentations in the office

  • Negotiation coach for women wishing to advocate on their own behalf more effectively, be that when negotiating a compensation package for a new job, or for advancement in a current job and

  • Professionals on the person side of life, such as healthcare professionals, who in turn can improve effectiveness at work.  

Opportunities for the Future

The essence of the “old boys’ club” is that their networks are built-in and are established without having to learn to create them. They meet the right contacts in their personal networks and activities. This list of network roles is meant to be a starting point for women to start to think about who is out there that would make up a community for a successful career.

As women learn the necessity of community in building a career, they may start to overcome their aversion to seeking out a network and becoming successful. Since everyone needs this, it's not wrong or overly ambitious to pursue it. As Pat notes, "[W]e see ambition as being a dirty word. There's some of us who say, 'I don't want to be ambitious, I don't want to look like I'm trying to go for everything, I don't want to look like I'm trying to get everything for myself.' That's okay, because it's not for yourself. Ultimately it's for the team, it's for your family, for your personal satisfaction."

Adding to the List

Please contact me with any suggestions of other roles that might be added to the list or descriptions of how these types of people can be helpful. I would be happy to add them to the list!

Attorney Mary Russell counsels individuals on startup equity, including founders on their personal interests and executives and key contributors on offer negotiation, compensation design and acquisition terms. Please see this FAQ about her services or contact her at (650) 326-3412 or at