THERE ARE PARTIES of my vintage who will feel vaguely depressed by these two books. I suppose we're the Uncle Toms of the women's movement. We crept up from steerage during World War II, while the men were off at war. We became stowaways in first class when they came back. If I'd asked for a raise, I might have been caught doing "man's work" and busted back to the steno pool, where I belonged. And if God ever found out what fun I was getting paid for, I figured He'd strike me dead. The men in my office got higher pay for the same work, but they needed it. They bought my lunch, laughed at my jokes, carried my typewriter, saved me a seat at the briefings, held me up high so I could see the parades, and threw their cloaks in the puddles, so I wouldn't catch cold in the rain. I wrote the boss a thank you letter when I finally left; he sent me a cigar. If he'd only thought to ask, I'd have paid him.
Well, these books are about another world -- a world of "role models," and "hardball," and "network" as an active verb. Women's networks, Carol Kleiman writes, "are the new wave of the eighties." She may very well be right. And in the war between the sexes, it won't be a decade of detente.
Both authors argue that men are still getting the best jobs and higher pay because they help each other along, almost automatically, through their "old boy" networks -- those invisble but powerful webs of school, social and business connections that range from locker rooms to luncheon clubs, from which women have been barred.
"We're 42 percent of the labor force," Mary Scott Welch points out, "But we have nowhere near 42 percent of the good jobs." In 1977, she writes, some 5.3 million men were making salaries of $25,000 or more, while only 200,000 women were being paid that much. Women make up one percent of the U.S. Senate; 4 percent of the House of Representatives, zero percent of the Supreme Court and 99 percent of the secretaries. "Only now do we see that where women are in the work world has little to do with themselves and everything to do with 'the system.' And vis-a-vis 'the system,' we're still on the outside looking in." If women are to redress the balance, these two books maintain, they've got to go forth and build some networks of their own.
For a start, they describe the networks that already exist -- and there's a whole firmament out there, from the Women's Forum, Inc., in New York, a star-studded group which has Barbara Walters, Bella Abzug and Erica Jong among its 155 members, to the River Oaks Breakfast Club, a gathering of professional women in Houston. There are music networks and sports networks, from a feminist karate union to a basketball league for battered wives, and a network of Pillsbury Bake-Off Girls in Sioux City, Iowa. Mary Scott Welch divides the business groups into "Inhouse groups," "Overground groups," and "Underground groups," depending on wheter they are within one company, or among several companies, or frowned-on by management but meeting anyway. Then the groups in turn are grouped into "vertical networks," "vertical/occupational," "horizontal," and "horizontal/occupational" -- "The finest refinement of all. Members work at the same level in the same field."
You learn how some of the older networks got their start, how they benefit their members and how to start a network of your own -- from choosing a name to financing office costs, getting the mailings out and deciding what kinds of programs to have at the meetings. In general, Kleiman comments, "you don't have to worry about having a program, because . . . the contacts made during these informal times are the nitty-gritty of networks."
Welch supplies texts of start-up letters, an organization plan and by-laws from networks that have already been set up. Kleiman gives names and addresses of 1,400 national and local networks all over the country, from the Lesbian Front in Jackson, Mississippi, to the Women's Caucus for Art in New York.
You learn of awesome achievements in the field. Welch cites on woman who accumulated more than a hundred 3-by-5-inch file cards, each with the name of a peson who had helped her with her search for a job. ("I had created a mini-network, with myself as the focus.") Another tries to take a Polaroid picture to go with every business card she collects at meetings.
There are tips on how to behave. Practice saying your name to a mirrow until you sound positive about yourself. "Don't bad-mouth anyone," Welch warns, or talk about children, pets, houses or crabgrass, "unless they're job related." And if you trade information, don't give any secrets away.
Both writers are urging a cause that goes beyond mere "networking." The "new wave of the eighties" is a crusade of sorts. The consciousness-raising and assertiveness training of the seventies have already outlived their time. "When you know more, feel more confident, put a higher value on your own experience, and simply spend more time with gutsier women -- all of which will happen in the course of good networking -- you'll wonder why you thought you needed any other kind of assertiveness training," Welch writes. Some of the women she describes find an exultation in "networking" they are at a loss to explain. A Los Angeles management consultant, "whose network consists of sixteen to eighteen high-powered women she entertains at dinner once a month" calls the experience "a kind of magic time." Another reports that "the energy flow is so exciting!"
With all this energy flowing into networking, how does the work get done? Being good at one's job draws only a passing nod in the network battle plan. Excelling at what one's paid to do is okay, both books imply, if you can spread the word around where it counts. But the idea of actually liking your job, or enjoying doing it well is as alien to this new world as friendship for its own sake. Networks may be traveling on the fastest track to the top, but if they're wrapped in the blighting earnestness of these books, they'll miss the enduring pleasures of the trip.