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Whenever there are group assignments or discussions in my workplace, my male colleagues exhibit some bad behaviours that I’m not even sure they’re aware of. First, they assume that a female colleague will take the notes, often with some excuse about how better organized that person is — even if the woman is far their senior! Second, they interrupt… a lot.
Should I speak up? How would you navigate such a male-dominated workplace?
This is a topic I am extremely passionate about and can relate to. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where “The Boys’ Club'' mentality dominates, man-terruptions are common, and women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves in patriarchal work cultures.
Women are paid about 74% of what their male counterparts get. Things are moving along, and women are shattering glass ceilings, but fixed mindsets still cage us. Changes never happen instantly, but we have to work together to reframe old, institutional ways of thinking.
When I began my career in 2007, I was in a largely male-dominated tech industry. I was lucky to have had respectful male colleagues, but I did experience partisan behaviour in that decade-long career. For example, a woman who was a strong, direct manager who got things done was labelled as “bossy,” while her male counterpart was very well-respected and someone everyone looked up to.
This troubled me, but I told everyone who called her “bossy” my perspective instead of reacting. I am all about “planting seeds” and ideas in people’s heads, and perhaps they may not understand at that moment, but the concept has been implanted in their subconscious. Hopefully, something in the future will trigger that memory. This is how our brains learn.
This is why it’s important to start conversations that shed light on important issues, especially workplace adversities that contribute to toxic work cultures.
You can also spearhead a movement of cultural change in your workplace.
When I started that same career, I was the only other female on my team. Over the years, I was soon building and hiring. I hired members of all sexes, but I did make a point to hire more women because I knew how it felt to have a minor advantage. I remember we were sitting in one of our weekly team reviews after I handed in my resignation, and there were more women than men! Even my art director pointed it out, and I remember feeling quite proud because no one realized it, but I like to think I left a subtle legacy and planted a seed of change. Men may not understand what a big deal this is to us.
This goes to another point; women are afraid to speak up about their achievements. I read a lot of biographies growing up and studied the behaviours and habits of people I looked up to. If I didn’t learn about their achievements which inspired me greatly, I wouldn’t be where I am. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long way to go in life, but small doses of inspiration will remind you to stay on track to become the person you want to be.
Knowledge is power.
Here are some other things you can do to create a more inclusive and socially aware work culture that will give women more opportunities:
ALWAYS stand up for yourself.
Voice your opinion. Voicing your idea gives you confidence which will build your credibility.
This is one thing I always teach younger girls I mentor: never be afraid to ask for what you want because if you don’t ask, you don't get it. If you don’t ask, there is a 50% chance you won’t get what you want, but there is a 50% chance you WILL, so are you willing to lose that chance?
I learned about this meeting room technique from someone else: when a woman presents or voices an opinion, get all the women in the room to give positive reinforcement or support. It’s not idyllic that women have to resort to these techniques but let’s reframe it as amplifying our voices to create a new normal. In neuroscience, we often hear the term: “what fires together, wire together,” so let’s create a network of women to rewire a new cultural norm.
Women are often taught to stay in the shadows. Men are taught to be direct and compete. It could be in our basic instinct to look down on those who don’t stand up for themselves because our survival instincts think they are “weak.” To change that, women can get on an equal playing field by learning it is okay to compete because healthy competition keeps us on our toes. When I say compete, you should be more assertive and know that you compete with yourself. To contribute to a positive work environment, become a better version of yourself to inspire others. Lead by example.
Kate Pn writes about mastering a healthy work-life balance by focusing on productivity hacking. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.