Ask the Expert: When it's a boy's club, what's a woman to do?

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A. You are not alone. As you read this, talented women across trading floors from the East Coast to the West Coast and around the world are thinking to themselves, It's not only me.

Let's tackle sports-talk first. Sports are fantastic and fun, and we all need more physical fitness, yet the primary use for sports in the workplace is to give people some area of interest to bond around that is non-business related.

Forgive the metaphor, but the best defense is a good offense. Everyone needs to find an innocuous way to build personal rapport with colleagues and assimilate into group culture. This is not to say you have to bond with other people by being just like them. Open up and start a conversation about what's personal and upbeat for you. It could be anything from wine-tasting to Navajo pottery to kayaking. Uncovering a mutual interest can lead to a newfound respect for one another.

As for the cigar-bar and drinking excursions? Tell them to have a great time. 'It is what it is,' says our recruiter expert Pat Wieser. 'It certainly doesn't sound like it's your thing so don't try to make it your thing. You would be miserable and so would they.' Instead, don't lose sight of why you are there and that your real job security lies simply in doing a phenomenal job.

Portfolio-manager-turned-executive-coach Maggie Craddock offers this tale from her past. 'When I was a professional fund manager, I used to have to do an awful lot of marketing trips across the country, meeting with men from the public fund sector who really wanted to be entertained and go to all-night cigar-bars and drink,' she says. She traveled with a colleague who was an ex-NFL player 'whose job it was to stay out late and take these guys drinking and smoke cigars with them. By the time I was through with my formal comments at a presentation or negotiation, I would politely excuse myself, meditate, have dinner, and do whatever I had to do to trade with a clear head the next day.' While working at that job, Craddock received two Lipper Awards for top mutual fund performance.

If alcohol and nicotine are not on your regular list of food groups, you might try being creative about venues that would be both enjoyable for them and for you. For example, if everybody is going out to a seedy, late-night, smoke-filled bar, suggest a classy wine tasting where the air is cleaner and the hour is earlier. But push gently for change. Making a big issue out of after-hours recreation can backfire, leading to resentment and strained relationships.

Of course, there are times when enough is enough. Though it's hard to tell what the case is in your instance, deliberate exclusion from informal social events attended only by male colleagues can rise to employment discrimination. According to our legal expert, Ken Taber, the exclusion probably needs to be intentional, directly linked to your gender, and has or will hurt your ability to perform your job. Also, someone higher up in the chain of command must be connected to the exclusion. Proving that the shut-out has an adverse enough effect on your job is tough; therefore, exclusion is rarely the only claim asserted in a discrimination case.

Assuming your situation isn't as dire as that, take a deep breath and focus your energy on finding other ways to connect personally with your colleagues-and on doing a great job at work. 'Men love humor and love working with women who are confident in their abilities,' says Wieser. 'Make your contribution at work and leave it at that.'

A reader advises...

'Network, network, network... find like-minded women, say, through the Financial Women's Association (FWA) if there are none at work, and go out for women's only soirees... you might be pleasantly surprised to see what happens if you invite your male, cigar-chomping (no smoking!) colleagues along to meet your new friends.'

Next week's question: How should a person handle what is perceived as age discrimination?

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