Gal pals: Network everywhere you go

One of the reasons the glass ceiling persists is that networking is key to getting ahead, and women are not as effective as men at building a network.

For one thing, men more than women are likely to be invited out to dinner (since men are doing the inviting). Also, men more than women are likely to have the time to network outside the office (since women are the primary caretakers of children even when both spouses work).

If you are a woman who thinks you don't have a problem networking, you're wrong. When men entertain clients at basketball games and strip clubs, you're not invited. Don't tell me you don't work with men like that. How would you know? They'd never tell you.

Additionally, men talk differently to men than to women. The subtext of an all-male conversation is let's-be-friends. The subtext of a male-female conversation is let's-have-sex.

Since women are at a disadvantage, they need to figure out ways to get ahead in the game. Here are some times when men don't typically network, but women can:

1. During work hours. While men tend to network before and after work, women usually feel too strapped for time for that. So women should concentrate on creating a network during office hours. This means setting aside time to speak informally with people inside your office and taking long lunches with people from other companies. This sort of schedule requires careful planning to start and maintain relationships– something women are usually better at than men.

2. During book clubs. The recent flurry of book club groups has not caught on among men, but women love them– even high-powered women you'd expect to be too busy to read Middlemarch. So while you're at the book club, don't be timid about letting people know what you do, and how you can help them. In that context, they're likely to reciprocate.

3. At the gym. It doesn't matter how busy you are, how many kids you have, you have to get some form of exercise. Sadly, most moms do not take this advice to heart, so the women at the gym are usually the single, no-kids, high-power types– great for networking. If you start going on a regular schedule, you'll meet the other people who are on your schedule– men and women.

4. During family time. Most moms work. So get to know the parents at soccer games, at gymnastics practice. You never know who might be there, especially on the weekend. In many cases, you will spend as much time with these parents as you do with some of your co-workers. So make the time count for your career.

Each of these situations will be awkward for most women, because generally, women don't like mixing business with pleasure. But here's my advice to you: Get over it.

Men do it all the time. In fact, for many men, there is rarely pleasure to be had unless it's mixed with business. So if you want to compete in a man's world, which corporate America definitely is, then you need to take the small opportunities you have and work them as hard as you can.

And none of you can afford to slack on the networking front. Catalyst, a New York-based research organization, surveyed senior women at Fortune 500 companies, and 41 percent cited exclusion from informal networks as an obstacle to women's advancement. Don't get caught griping about this problem. Solve it for yourself by networking like men do– making it a part of everything they engage in.