I spent the last two years being the only female in my all-male team. Full disclosure: there are women in other departments, but on a day-to-day basis, I'm working almost exclusively with men. Research from McKinsey shows that being the “only” is often a negative in the workplace. However, I’ve been able to thrive as the only female for two years. Here’s how.
In this all-male environment, my colleagues are smart and introverted. If you're in the tech space, you know what I mean. They prefer to process internally and ask questions later. Not me! I ask questions, give my opinion and share ideas in real time.
This candor opens discussions, which makes meetings more effective. Projects progress quicker and have better results. My ideas, even if not fully formed, spark discussions and draw out even better ideas from my colleagues. This gives me the advantage of portraying leadership, a skill highly sought after in any organization.
If you're having difficulty speaking up, try starting with clarifying questions. It's an easy way to get the ball rolling and quickly show your expertise in the area.
Could you imagine not knowing how many children your supervisor has? Or where your deskmate went to college? If that’s hard to imagine, I’m guessing you take the time to have a human conversation with your colleagues. While this seems simple, many men I’ve worked with skip this step. My male co-workers couldn’t tell me how many children our manager had, and they’ve been there over four years!
Connections at work are vital to our happiness and to the success of our organizations. Yet many employees feel disconnected, especially when you’re the odd woman out. How do you build connections with all men if you feel like an outsider?
I have to admit, my first few months were a bit lonely. It took months for me to finally ask to eat lunch with my colleagues. I would see them laughing and eating together and felt completely left out. But slowly, by treating them as I would want to be treated, I began to build trust and connections.
I have my current project lead role thanks to one of those connections. We were comfortable enough together that I actually asked for the position. And she agreed!
Share with others, and they’ll share with you. It’s that easy to build connections at work.
It's a long-held belief that women are more emotionally intelligent (EI) than men. The science is still out on this. But, hey, if that's the perception and you're the only female in the room, why not use it to your advantage?
Facilitating and leading your team is a huge leadership role and a chance to showcase your skills. I've been in many situations where I'm not the most senior person in the room, but I’m still able to command the audience and bring people together. I was recently in a workshop with three different departments (for once not the only female in the room), and while others had more seniority, I was able to step up and lead the workshop. This wasn’t decided on by anyone—I simply realized a leader was needed and decided to saddle up to the whiteboard.
Don’t look for permission. Simply start communicating in your most authentic voice and focus on the task at hand.
I may be surrounded by men who look and act differently than me, but none of that matters when we focus on the work. In fact, they are amazing mentors. If you’re willing to learn and ask questions, you’ll find a willing mentor in your group.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, male executives report more confusion and are mentoring women less often. However, 85% of men surveyed reported that they want to help women advance their careers. This signals that it might be worth trying to seek their guidance.
You don’t need to ask someone to be your “mentor”. Just start asking questions. I bet you’d be surprised at the results! In fact, I don’t have one mentor—I have many.
Dr. Natalie Morse has her PhD from Cornell University. She works tirelessly to support women in STEM and coaches high achievers towards their graduate goals. Connect with her on LinkedIn, or visit her website for tips.
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