Male bonding is high in the workplace. The ‘good old boys network’ is characterised by discussions about cars and sports, shared jokes and back-slapping. Men often hang out together even after work, taking the camaraderie to another level.

Women find it difficult to break into these circles, especially as they mostly refrain from socialising with colleagues after work hours. Yet, these after-hours get-togethers are crucial as they help build rapport, friendship and even team spirit. What’s more, a lot of information is also shared in casual settings like shared coffees, drinks, lunches or even a game of cricket, football or golf!

According to new research from Catalyst, a leading non-profit organisation that specialises in expanding opportunities for women in the workplace, even though hard work and impressive results are important, high performers - especially those who are women - need sponsors/allies who are willing to fight for their advancement in order to make it out of middle management and into the elusive ‘C-Suite’.

Mr. Karl Smith says in his book, Beyond the Business Handshake: Dare to Build High-Trust Business Relationships, “Relationships possessed by an individual can provide one with access to new information, resources and opportunities. This information, resources, and opportunities, both within and outside one's current firm, can result in direct enhancement of a woman's career and the firm's competitiveness.”

And the best way to build this network of allies is to bond with co-workers – both men and women - apart from the work. And regular work schedules never leave much bonding time; water cooler chats are never enough. Going out even for just coffee together can help co-workers (especially of the opposite gender) to get to know each other on another level.

They can relate to each other by interacting in a more meaningful way and thus foster a lot of camaraderie and cooperation.

The roadblocks

But women don’t have it that easy always. They have busy schedules balancing work and home responsibilities and are hard-pressed to spare time to socialise. Even when they can, colleagues are often the last people many may want to see outside work!

Then again, there is the fear of speculation and rumours as people start gossiping when a man and woman spend time together outside work. Platonic friendships are not yet easily accepted across the board.

Even when women try to socialise with male co-workers, they sometimes feel awkward and uncomfortable when ‘breaking into’ the male groups. In fact, in a recent survey, 41% of women reported ‘exclusion from informal networks of communication’ as one of the top reasons holding them back from advancement in the workplace.

Making it work

Following are some tips for women to socialise with work colleagues in a fun, friendly and casual way:

Home and the time pressures obviously comes first, but try to find some time to get together with co-workers as it is beneficial in more ways than one.

Do not hesitate to hang out together with male colleagues after work hours. But accepting group offers in mixed company is safer as going out alone with someone even just across the street can make tongues wag.

When going out, drop the work mode and be your normal, casual self. Being at ease and sharing jokes, stories and other casual conversation will help you to get to know others on a personal level. Look for common ground like activities, interests or values.

Display a positive, friendly, cheerful and helpful attitude without getting unnecessarily defensive. It may feel awkward in the beginning, but slowly you will start integrating with the group.

Keep things in perspective as it is not imperative to socialise together after work hours. Whether you go out together or not has no bearing on your capabilities.

Be confident of your abilities and do not feel left out or inadequate due to the lack of casual interactions. Hold your own and remember you have earned the position on your merit!

Be yourself and maintain your value system – you will earn respect and confidence irrespective of whether you socialise or not.

Finally, it goes without saying that meeting colleagues on a friendly basis outside the workplace helps reduce stereotypical prejudices and hostility thus paving the way for open communication, trust, cooperation and teamwork. It makes co-workers more tolerable and the workplace feels a lot friendlier!

Payal Chanania