Navigating a male-dominated work place: How to cope

Reece Witherspoon, top Hollywood actress, says she’s had enough. Why? Because for many of her films she’s been the only woman on set.
Image via Shutterstock

The result is that she’s taken control and co-produced a major TV series with Nicole Kidman, another influential actress. Good for them. But these rich women have the power, the money and the connections. What if you are working with male colleagues and don’t have either of those?

It got me thinking and then trawling the internet for advice because I don’t have experience in this field having always worked in the media where by and large women were treated as equals (well, with one bitchy exception though am happy to tell you she got fat.)

So what did I find?

If you are in a company where there are few women using the Ladies there’s plenty of advice – and quite a lot of explanation. For example: Men like working with men because they understand their jokes, rude talk and don’t take exception to insults. And by and large they just don’t get women colleagues.

I have told before about a friend who joined a top company with a male colleague on the same day. On day three she saw him going out with their boss both carrying squash racquets.  As it happened my friend is a good squash player but no one asked her. Doesn’t this prove the above point.

“Avoid getting easily offended writes a female banker: “Guys have this thing at work called the Circle of Trust. You gain entry when they know they can be themselves around you, without being reported to HR. In the banking analyst bullpen, I heard every disgusting story there is to tell—but I stayed cool. As a result, I eventually became part of the group and was included in the nights of ordering takeaways or going out for beers.”

I don’t like this advice and wouldn’t recommend following it. It makes me uncomfortable because this woman was turning herself into a female with balls. Differences between the genders must be recognised to act effectively as a good business team as another nugget I learned from the internet puts it:

Women don’t just have different “parts,” we have plenty of physiological differences that affect, and often enhance, the way we do our job. We have about 60% of the hand strength of men, our fingers average one knuckle length shorter, and (no surprise here) our hips are wider. We also have a lower centre of gravity, better joint and spinal flexibility, and excellent manual dexterity. All of our senses with the exception of frontal vision are superior to that of men; a woman’s best vision is peripheral. We hear better, our senses of touch and smell are more sensitive, and our sense of taste is more acute.

“If we train ourselves to truly listen with all of our senses, we will notice small changes in people that will help us read a situation more accurately; it’s what we used to call “women’s intuition.”

Being different doesn’t mean being at a disadvantage” (my italics) “and being aware of physiology can help women (and their supervisors) make informed decisions about aspects of work.”

Sensible advice. But there’s more.

Women like to talk; in fact, communication is essential to our emotional survival; one of the reasons we talk is to bond. Women speak at a rate of about 250 words per minute, compared to the average male rate of 125 words per minute. Men have about 7000 words a day to speak or write, while women have at least 20,000 words a day that we need to communicate to others. We make more eye contact than men, we stop what we are doing to listen to others, and we tend to wait until others are finished speaking before we join the conversation. Women are generally comfortable sharing personal information, while men tend to keep things “strictly business” in a group setting.” (From me: please don’t gossip in a business setting as it makes others feel you aren’t serious about your job – true, I’ve seen this happen.)

“Understanding these differences will go a long way in working successfully with men, and with other women. Recognize that in a male-dominated situation, such as a meeting, you need to keep your statements short and to the point if you want to be heard.”  (I’ve told this before in a previous blog but it’s worth repeating – that after one meeting when men were asked what percentage women talked they said 75% when in reality it was 25%.)

“Learn how to “interrupt” or insert yourself into the discussion politely but assertively if you have a point to make and try not to end your sentences with an upward, or questioning, tone.“ (This is an important point because when you politely end a sentence with an upward tone men feel you are asking and not telling.)

“Limit the body of your emails to two short paragraphs and if you have more information to share, put it into an attached document.” (From me: This is really important so please take this advice. I often get emails which are so long I skim through and often don’t really take much in and am sure I am not alone.)

 And possibly the best advice I found:

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and as author Patrick Lencioni outlines in his book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” allowing and properly managing conflict among co-workers is a productive element of any workplace team. However, men and women handle conflict differently, and women need to know how to leverage these differences to their advantage. Control your emotions and don’t keep bringing up the past.

“Instead, communicate forward: acknowledge the conflict and then ask “so, how do we move past this.” Don’t engage in personal attacks, keep it professional. Don’t email when you are angry and don’t read emotion or tone into texts, emails and directives. (my italics) “Don’t hold a grudge; once the conflict is over, shake hands, hold your head high, and get back to work. Understand the amazing power of forgiveness and learn to “let it go.

“Whether you’ve been in a male-dominated workplace for a month or a decade, seek out and learn from others who have not only survived, but thrived!”

I hope those of you in a male dominated business take note of the advice and recommendations and learn to understand – and appreciate – the differences between the genders. Working better together will make a company reach its goals far easier and with employees who are more at ease with each others differences.

About the author

Lady Val is our Life of a Lady Blogger. Lady Val is also the founder of 'Lady Val's Professional Women's Network.' You can Reach Lady Val on: Life of a Lady Blog, Lady Val's Professional Women's Network

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