We all remember that scene from Titanic. As a first class dinner comes to a close, Rose predicts the men will suggest brandy in the smoking room where they’ll “congratulate themselves for being masters of the universe” and discuss business & politics. 🥃
The activity is exclusive and exclusionary. The women are left at the table, and it’s implied that our lower class protagonist, Jack, should remain with the women — the topics are simply out of theirs and his league.
We’ve written about it before — money is traditionally a male domain. Aided by historical factors and cultural conditioning, women just aren’t as open about bringing money into casual conversations. Men are far more comfortable cooly discussing business in spaces dedicated to socializing, smoking lounges being a real example.
But you don’t need a dedicated room on a luxury liner to subvert this stereotype. Women are taking this concept and modernizing it. It requires a shift in how we think about happy hour, but the practice comes with great benefits. 🥂
Business with leisure
Smoking lounges were exclusively male spaces to congregate, socialize, discuss matters of business or politics, smoke, drink, and gamble (source: Titanic Wiki). 🎲
They were meant to be spaces where men could retreat from the rigorous social codes of the 19th and early 20th century. In other words, men were free to talk about things that didn’t qualify as appropriate dinner table topics in mixed company — business, money, power.
At the same time, women retired to the drawing room where they had no escape from the strict codes that governed their wellbeing. They were expected to gossip or talk about things like parties & decorating. We were taught to stay in our socially constructed box, even at leisure.
That’s not to say that these constructs aren’t limiting for our male colleagues in different ways. It’s simply a real-life example that traditionally men have no problem using these alternative spaces to network and strike deals. 💰
Our own history
Women have traditions of their own, predating even smoking lounges. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent trend of women’s circles. These wellness retreats are actually a spin on ancient traditions of women meeting with women.
Likely dating back to prehistory, women’s circles were outlawed in many societies and members were sometimes even punished for their participation. They were largely reintroduced in the 1900s, when women would gather to do crafts like quilting and knitting. They’re even linked to women’s suffrage and labor movements. ✊
At their core, these gatherings were meant to empower women through the sharing of information. Groups would discuss goals & concerns and share stories & advice. And while knitting circles might not sound like an entirely empowering setting to do business deals, we use them to demonstrate that they’re networking opportunities built into our DNA.
Women’s circle redux
So how do we modernize both the idea of women’s circles and the tradition of the male-dominated smoking lounge? Well, we steal a page from our male colleague’s playbook. 📘
Men tend to think very casually about money and deal flow. For example, hiring friends, referring friends, giving their friends business, getting their friends to fund other friend’s businesses, and so on — without feeling any guilt about it.
Women on the other hand tend to keep those things separate, and are often less likely to explicitly ask in casual, social situations.
Cigar rooms functioned to do just that. They were so much more that recreation — co-working spaces, boardrooms, and networking functions. They facilitated openness and relaxation which, when combined with business dealings, made for incredible and (seemingly) organic opportunities.
Cocktails, coffee, or courses
Cocktails aren’t required — the goal is to find a communal, casual space to connect with each other. Happy hours are a great place to start. Though for some, a coffee spot might be the most comfortable. We’ve also seen women harness the power of traditionally male activities like poker or golf. ♠️
There are so many benefits to combining recreation and business. Relationships are built through people you know or trust. By merging the professional with the extracurricular, you’re building a community that also serves to transact business.
In situations where you gather with those you trust, people give to people. Suddenly, you can ask for what you need. You can seek out opportunities and in turn be generous with your own network. 🤝
When you start sending out invitations to your next happy hour, think about it a bit differently. Facilitate a safe space, grab a drink, talk to other business women, ask about families, get to know each other — but also explicitly support each other in business through connections, introductions, referrals, etc.
Using your lunch dates, golf outings, and happy hours in ways that really matter for both your business and personal lives will not only be fun — they’ll be empowering. The more women that can harness the traditions of meshing the casual with business, the more power there will be. 💥
Source image: Titanic Wiki