Male-dominated workplaces that work for women - the good, the better and the best
September 11, 2011 10:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm wondering about what measures can be taken to increase gender diversity in male-dominated workplaces. For women who work in male-dominated fields - how did your company's culture contribute to creating an appealing work environment for you? What can be done to build and foster this kind of culture?

I work in the tech industry, and throughout my career, most teams I've worked on have been predominantly or all male. I am really curious as to the experiences of other women who work in this or other male-dominated fields (ie engineering, finance, and construction).

How has your company culture shaped your experiences? What aspects of your company's culture make it a more appealing place to work and help you to achieve success as a woman? For example, this could include things like communication style, organizational structure, social events, customs, etc.

I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. Thanks in advance for your responses!
posted by remixnine to Work & Money (24 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I work in a fairly male dominated field (architecture) and my current office is entirely men (though it is also tiny). I think macho competition/"boys club" mentalities are the most problematic, followed by the general sexism of clients and vendors who seem to think I'm the receptionist.

I can't speak specifically to corporate measures that would help make the field more gender-equal. Certainly the macho culture of putting in the most hours isn't healthy, and not conducive to having a family, which is why many women slide laterally into a related, but less intensive field (interiors). The biggest problem in architecture though, is dealing with the contractors and vendors who often aren't interested in hearing it from a woman and will go over my head to my boss if they don't like what I tell them. Unfortunately this is external to the company itself, but the best thing the company can do is be very clear about my role and be very consistent in directing communication to me. As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important thing a company can do to encourage me to stay in the profession - to have my back to the naysayers.
posted by annie o at 10:52 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does your company require work hours or social events that implicitly assume you have a wife at home who can deal with all your household errands/repairs/social calendar, etc.? That can be an impediment to all single people, but single women get less social/career/appearance "slack" than single men do.

Certainly there are a lot of women (and men) who need the flexibility of "family friendly" policies because they actually have children. I'm not one of them, but I certainly need to be able to ditch work during civilized M-F hours to take care of my household. My female colleagues and I joke about getting a wife (or a nanny) who can prepare our meals and supervise the contractor...

I'd also suggest that you take notice of the cues in your office's physical facilities. Do you have a tiny 2-stall ladies vs an expansive men's restroom? Ladies restrooms only on every other floor? I've worked in corporate labs with both of these setups. Unless the building is a historical site, this is a pretty significant (if possibly inadvertent) clue that women aren't welcome or expected to contribute. If your have a gym onsite, is the locker room a location where substantive discussions & decision-making occur? It's hard for your female employees to compete a high level if they are a priori excluded from the decision-making arena.
posted by janell at 11:12 PM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Policies where women AND men are able to work flexible hours and potentially work part-time are very helpful. It's all very well if women are able to knock off early to go and pick up their kids, or stay home on Wednesday altogether, but there's going to be resentment and unfairness pretty quickly if it's only women that do it. We will be extra impressed if the boss does it.

If you have an environment where aggressive macho posturing is the order of the day, and the only way to be heard is to join in with the loud jokey offensive insults and to deliver your opinion forcefully as if you found it up a mountain on a stone tablet, that makes lots of women (and in fact men!) feel uncomfortable. Some of us will happily join in with that kind of thing, but many of us won't, and it would be nice if we didn't have to.

The way to fix that problem is with leadership. If the boss sets a good example of collaborative behaviour there's a good chance that everyone else will follow.

Other things that may make women feel less welcome include
- a culture of discussing the hotness (or otherwise) of the female customers
- automatically expecting female members of staff to take the minutes, make the tea or answer the phone.
- constantly reminding people of the gender divide "so what do the LADIES think", "so, Jim and Bob, can you do X, and would you two beautiful ladies do Y..."
- leery speculation as to office relationships or the prospect of same.
posted by emilyw at 12:02 AM on September 12, 2011

I think there's maybe... ten women at my company of ~140.

Most of the casual sexism (like kitchen jokes, calling all women "girls", complaining about things all wives/girlfriends do) is difficult to police from a company culture standpoint because it really relies on individuals to (a) not make those jokes, and (b) superiors to call them on it.

If superiors respect women as equals and are vocal about it, then this attitude will wind its way through all the ranks by setting the tone of what is and is not appropriate. If you're looking for anything that could be a call to action (something that you could implement), then I would recommend some leadership training for anyone who is in a superior role at the company.

Similarly, sexual harassment training mixed in with anti-bullying/discrimination training could be really awesome at getting that culture where you want it. These don't have to be boring, outdated seminars that have no relevance to a modern techy workplace. Our company just did our sexual harassment training seminar (apparently required by California law) and I thought it was excellent (I know a lot, and I learned a ton), and it was run by someone who normally counsels tech and media companies and thus was familiar with the quirks of our kind of workplace.

Some of the other things that I think help make an environment more 'female friendly' are things like:

* Having women in leadership positions. In a tech company, this means I look for female developers in positions of leadership, not just project managers and HR (not to diminish their roles, just that those roles tend to be gendered anyway). It's a way to know at that initial interview stage that a company values women seriously, and implies that you won't have to be the trailblazer.

* Family-friendly work policies. If you give employees discounts for gym memberships, think about giving them discounts for childcare. Our company also gives everyone free accounts on SitterCity, which is a babysitter/nanny resource. We also have some company parties where kids are explicitly invited, and all the kids come to the office on Halloween for desk-by-desk trick-or-treating. (It's adorable).

* Flex-time is, of course, useful for everyone but women get hardest hit by being working moms. We have rules in the handbook we're supposed to follow about core hours and flex hours, but the reality is that expectations are driven by what our superiors do. One of mine often leaves work early or arrives late and emails the team to let them know his daughter is sick or has a doctor's appointment. That precedent means that this behavior is acceptable and down the line others can do the same. On the other hand, if you have superiors who never use their flex time to take care of their kids (because they have a wife to do that, etc.), then the expectation will follow that behavior. It's definitely something to be aware of.

* Some sort of stated maternity leave. I've yet to work at a company that even had pregnant employee, so none of them have this. It's just good to know this is something the company has taken into account rather than a situation they never expect to deal with.

Note: I don't have any intentions on having kids, but family friendly policies are a huge factor in whether I work somewhere for a variety of reasons. Part of it is the gendered nature of childcare (so it's a reflection on the company's interest in getting and keeping female employees), and the other part of it is quality of life - which is a factor women generally rate higher in importance than men when making career decisions.

It's important to note... 99% of the things you do to make a workplace more female-friendly are also things that everyone will benefit from.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 12:11 AM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

It's a small thing but avoid, avoid, avoid having any woman in the office become the go-to person for organising birthday cards, office parties, holiday swaps etc. Being female does not in fact make you the office mum.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:18 AM on September 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

off-topic, but this makes me realize: in my work, we have women in the trenches, and women in executive positions, but not many women at all in middle management. Interesting.

How to make progress? Not easy. The whole workplace culture has to be against making "kitchen jokes", for example. It would be unacceptable for the lead developer to blow off her workday stress by making fun of the size and effectiveness of my genitals, to take the obvious idea, that would be upsetting and hurtful to me, as a man. Think of kitchen jokes like that. You have to fire people who can't get this, and hire people who do.
posted by thelonius at 12:45 AM on September 12, 2011

In the early and mid 1960s, I worked summers as a lifeguard with a number of other young men, and one young woman, at a lake beach in eastern Kansas. In those days, it was expected by our employer that we of XY chromosome heritage would show up in late spring to wade out and anchor the lifeguard stand, in cold lake water, when it was never asked of XX chromosome heritage employees. The water was damned cold, and we XY types understood, and shivered, and got the damned thing out there, and anchored again for the season, and never said a word about it to our XX comrade. But we were baffled when, in the second year, when we all were rotating bathroom swabbing and provisioning equally, that our XX member came in crying one day, and quit. We XY types just had nothing to say, and later, we went into the bathrooms, flushed and cleaned the toilets, and swabbed the flloors, and went on with our jobs. I still don't know what set her off, and I still don't know why she quit, but I don't think the rest of us having external plumbing, or her sharing daily janitorial duties, was the real issue.

In the mid-70s, I was working a summer job, between college terms, as a book salesman, in the mid-west. It was an awful, if remunerative job, for people of the right mentality. Basically, we worked in crews, that traveled from town to town in automobiles, and we'd get dropped out in a new town, one person every 4 or 5 blocks, to canvas on foot, and try to sell encylopedias and Bibles. Nights, we slept 6 or 8 to a motel room, some on the floor, to keep down expenses. We went out, a week at a time from Kansas City, and sweated in summer heat, walking from one house to another in small towns and suburbs, knocking on every door, knowing that we needed to knock on at least 100 doors, introduce ourselves, pre-qualify the household for credit through a few questions and observations, and set appointments to return later in the evening, to do our sales presentations. 100 doors knocked early in a summer evening would generally result in 3 or so "appointments" for later in the evening, and 3 appointments would usually mean 1 sale, which was a $300 commission, if it was credit accepted at the home office. But our crew turnover was pretty high; we lost guys every week, for low production and just because they hated the job, and every week, we got new guys on our crew. One week in late July, we got a young woman on our crew, and it was just weird. That week, we were headed into Iowa, and the 5 of us, including the new girl, just sat, without a word, in our crew chief's car as he drove a hundred miles from Kansas City up towards Sioux City. Finally, our crew chief started asking us to recite our closing scripts, our product scripts, and our introductions/appointment making scripts. When it came to our new girl, she burst out in tears, and the rest of us just looked out the windows, because we had nothing to say. Our crew chief just put her on a Greyhound bus in Sioux City back to KCMO.

In the 80s, I bought a machinery company with some partners, and worked as the Engineering Manager. We had a young woman who had been working for some months as a detailer - a person who updated engineering drawings with new part numbers when old part numbers became obsolete, and who made text notations to that effect in note boxes on original drawings. Her lettering was good, and her work ethic seemed good. When an opening came for a draughtsman, I suggested to our senior draughtsman, Karl, that we ought to give her a chance at a promotion. Karl, then a 58 year old, mild mannered, thickly bespectacled, quiet, somewhat shy, pleasant, proud, highly skilled mechanical designer/draughtsman, trained in pre-WWII Germany, agreed to apprentice her, and she eagerly accepted. Karl told her what drawing instruments she'd need, and we opened an account for her at a local supply house. She bought some mechanical pencils and some Lucite triangles. Karl told her she'd need dividers, inking pens, scales of various descriptions, etc. She cried, and left work early. The next day, Karl apologized for whatever he'd said, that made her cry, gave her an isometric measurement transfer exercise to draw, and two hours later, she cried some more, and left to go home. Karl was about as upset at this turn of events as I'd ever seen him; he came to me, asking to go home, too, but I made him stay and work. Two days later, on a Friday, the young woman in question came in at 8:00 a.m., and told me, in private, that Karl was too demanding a boss, and that she didn't want to be draughtsmen, after all. I told her she didn't have to be, she could work for us, still, as a detailer. She burst into tears, and quit, on the spot. I talked to Karl for an hour, shortly after, and he couldn't explain her behavior, and finally, he quit, on the spot. Losing Karl really hurt us; he'd been with us 18 years, and was lead draughtsman more than 10.

In the 90s, I hired a young black man, and a young black woman, for jobs as technical support persons to an industrial sales and service force that we were trying to computerize with Windows laptops, and Citrix based server applications. The job involved limited travel with sales and service reps to customer sites, about 80% in office testing and configuration of Citrix applications prior to rollout, and some documentation work, which was to be published via company intranet. The young man worked out great, and our sales and service force, which was 95% male, not only liked him, they made him a pet. The young woman, not so much. From the outset, she complained about traveling as much as the job required, when it was detailed, before hire, what travel would be involved. She complained about having to work with our sales reps, both male and female, in customer situations, where she was told not to discuss our new systems limitations before customers. She complained about the fact that our sales force was predominantly male, when it had been explained to her that this was the case, for historical reasons, before she was hired. 6 weeks after her start date, she quit without notice, by just never coming back to work.

All of which is to say that, working in predominantly male work groups can be challenging, because when you're different from the majority of your co-workers, your personal issues stand out. But, if you take a job in such a situation, you do so, I hope, knowing that, and you implicitly agree to do the job, and change minds by example, as much as by complaint and rule of law. There are always easier working situations than inserting yourself into situations where you'll be a minority, but if you succeed in such circumstance, your co-workers may well become your best friends, and biggest fans. It does take time and character, and a certain stubborness to succeed, even now, in such circumstances. And you have to have enough gumption to state and document unfair work situations, and sexist behaviors, without breaking down publically, as much as you need the resolve to carry on until such barriers to female employment you still find are eliminated. There's a quiet courage, a kind of determination, and a willingness to work through problems that shows in someone who can be successful effecting organizational change, and most people rally to it, when they see it. But sometimes, they take a little time to rally, and you must be prepared for that.
posted by paulsc at 12:47 AM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

I work at Microsoft, and have been there for two years straight out of college. Although it is obviously heavily male dominated, there is an institutional commitment to gender equality, that is signified by things like identical male/female bathrooms everywhere, an annual conference about/for Women at Microsoft that can be attended as part of personal development/training requirements, re-iteration in compulsory annual training videos, women's mentoring groups, etc. Each building* has a Nursing Mothers room, with a small sign about this inside the women's bathrooms. In terms of communication style, etc, this is sort of bundled with the 'international cultures' training emphasis.

It also has a number of seemingly widely adopted flexible/family friendly work policies. Many of my senior managers (mostly male) leave work at 4pm some days to pick up children, or have a kidlet sitting in the corner of their office some days during summer. I have seen a handful of email auto-replies saying that the guy was out on new parental leave, just in the last couple months. There are kids everywhere on Halloween. Employees can use 'emergency childcare' of some sort when their regular stuff falls through. There are probably many more that I don't know of, not having kids.

As for individual experiences, my name (Jac) is not obviously female, and because I make the first contact with most people at work over email, I have had a few terribly embarrassed people apologise that they had assumed I was a guy. But I haven't noticed any difference in the way people talk to me/others or assign work, and there is no 'kitchen jokes' that I've had to avoid. I play pickup soccer at work at lunchtime, and get on fine with all the guys there. I played in a corporate charity match recently, where we entered a male team and a co-ed team. We have several sports leagues through work, and I play on a co-ed Ultimate Frisbee team, and co-ed Flag Football. If your company has this kind of 'extra-curricular' stuff, it would be easy for it to accidentally be just a guys team/league, because the two girls there when it started didn't play.

So, obviously MS has a critical mass of female staff that allow many of these things to work, but they also have a conscious aim for equality, and it seems to be working out in my experience.

*AFAIK, I work in a newer section and I guess the old buildings might not?
posted by jacalata at 1:20 AM on September 12, 2011

If you're looking strictly for personal experiences, please ignore the following:

Deloitte is now widely considered an exemplar of effectively changing a workplace culture to attract and retain women, not just generally but in leadership positions too. Sidebar links on that page offer info about concrete steps and initiatives.

How three corporations crafted organizations for female employees that have an actual impact. This bit about one Deloitte program is interesting:
Men almost always say that the women's initiative is important. "But then they'll stop, and if they continue, they'll say 'but it hasn't done anything for me.'"

To help change that thinking, Benko came up with a new program two years ago called Women as Buyers. It would specifically help men with what mattered to them--winning more clients--while improving understanding between men and women at the firm. . . . The feedback from men has been overwhelmingly positive . . . "If you really want to make a difference for women," says Silverglate, "it has to make sense for all the partners."
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:21 AM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've experienced the solution to be hiring women as peers. The problem is that more men than women are interested in many aspects of technology, especially the entrepreneurial aspects. Women are returning back to computer science after being away for 20-30 years, so it may be easier to form technical teams of male and female peers in the future.

Event planning is a funny one. My experience has been that it's easier to abolish office birthday parties than to get men and women to plan them equally. It's not that those activities turn women into the "office mom," it's that the whole notion of serving ice cream cakes every week is mom-like to begin with. Same goes for planning pointless staff meetings and other "you have nowhere else to be but here" things businesslike men and women frankly find silly...
posted by michaelh at 2:44 AM on September 12, 2011

I'm a woman at a male-dominated high tech company. There used to be 6/8 women, now there are 10/85.

My company does a lot of US defense contracting but also some commercial and scientific work. In all honesty, the most frustration I have is with our sales department, because they are still very much tied into the old-boys network of ex-military officers who all still know each other and relive their war stories. (Don't get me wrong, I'm a military brat, but this is just a special brand of annoying) That makes it difficult for me to engage with customers, international sales representatives, and others whose primary interface is our sales department, and has more than once had an impact on how I can do my job. Not a whole lot to be done about this right now, but I remain hopeful that as the demographics of the generations at work change, so will this.

But outside of that department, even when I was the only female engineer and only female project manager for a long time, the best thing about my company was that my bosses (who are not sales guys) actually gave a crap. Sometimes it got a little silly, like when every time a potential female hire for *any* department would interview, somehow I would get brought into the interview "so that they know we have a woman here" and I can answer any "woman questions" she had. But more than once after a frustrating meeting with our sales guys or an external sales rep that was treating me badly, my boss and other colleagues have taken me aside to ask whether there's anything they can do to help deal with that person/situation, or if next time I would like them to say something in the actual meeting. Often I say no thank you, but it means a lot to me that they care enough to ask what they can do.

The individual *thing* that makes me THE most uncomfortable is when any man I interact with refers derogatorily to "the wife." I don't care if "the wife" is making you come home on time, not take that business trip, retire before you're 70, or whatever. "The wife" isn't making you do crap. You have decided to do something that involves a work-life balance and you're not willing to own up to it so you're framing the most important woman in your life as a controlling nag, and you don't even bother to respect her enough to say "my wife" or, god forbid, by her NAME, in front of your colleagues -- it's "the wife." So how do you think that makes all us women in the room feel when we think about our current or future significant others referring to us that way in their meetings? This is, again, most prevalent in meetings with sales reps, from my company or otherwise, but I see it even in our technical staff as well sometimes. So if a work/life balance is something to be ashamed of, male coworkers tend to "blame" their wives. Make it something to be proud of and no woman will have to listen to this buillshit.

Now, the men I most enjoy working with? I've noticed something interesting. They all seem to be married to career women. Go figure. I know you can't actively create an environment around that, but if you build/move your company in an area where the demographics tend toward working women in all sorts of fields (as is the case here in Boston), your company will demographically be more welcoming, I think.
posted by olinerd at 3:15 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been in a meeting and offered a suggestion. Silence. My boss says Theora just suggested ____ and the guys said, Hey, good idea, Boss. Boss later confirmed my impression that they literally paid no attention when I offered the idea, and hearing a good idea, assumed it came from Boss. Having a boss who gets this is a huge help. Listen to women. Many women didn't grow up knowing how to be assertive at work, but if you listen, you'll get good ideas (or not, just as with other staff).

Now that many families have 2 working parents or single working parents, family-friendly policies benefit everybody. The person in my office who takes the most time off for child care? A guy whose wife's company doesn't allow her to use sick time for their child.

Sexist jokes & comments, discussions about the hotness, or lack thereof, of every female who goes by the window, referring to women as cougars, not okay, and I still encounter these behaviors. There are still guys who talk to my breasts, seriously. Don't tolerate this crap in your workplace. A professional workplace is respectful to everybody, and that includes race, religion, national origin, gender, handicap status, age and veteran status. That means not commenting about men in a sexist manner, either. A respectful workplace is more pleasant and productive for everybody.

If I'm a demanding supervisor, I'm an unreasonable bitch. If I'm not demanding enough, I can't handle the job because I'm a woman. And there really is no middle ground. Support women in management positions.

Paulsc, sorry you had to do the heavy lifting, but in my office, I'm the 2nd most likely person to move furniture. If N--- is in the office, he's better at putting together cube partitions. When we get a big delivery, almost everybody pitches in. A few women don't, and a few guys don't. Expect people to pitch in, regardless of gender, and mindful of people having different abilities.

I'm more likely to cry; it's how I was raised, and, women are probably more likely to cry because we produce oxytocin. I hate it, and I sure hope the next generation doesn't do it. I'll get a tissue, and keep on dealing with it. I'm sorry; I know it's disconcerting. Ihate it way more than you do.

I work in technology, and men still have a hard time believing that I know what I'm doing. I still have to work harder and be smarter.

Paulsc, your last paragraph, about how minorities have to buck up and try harder? That is, by definition, discrimination. I earned my job, I'm good at it, and I should be able to come to work, and get it done. And when I document the sexist behavior, and take it to management, it changes everything, and not in a good way. I'll keep doing it, because I believe in equal rights. I want an even break, fair pay, and equal opportunity, and I want it 10 years ago.
posted by theora55 at 5:03 AM on September 12, 2011 [10 favorites]

i work in a very male dominated industry, who are very keen on bringing more women into the business.

The trouble we have is that while they are making a real effort- recruiting like the dickens, making sure that female leadership is very visible, yada yada- there is still an ugly boys club that sort of festers underneath the surface. There is still a lot of deals struck after hours at bars, and that isn't something that is going to go away. People want to do business with their friends. But when men and women go out drinking all night long together, it's often not business that's on their mind at three am.

the biggest problem i have seen is that even questioning bad behaviors or strange women-focused marketing is seen as an attack on the good will of the industry relating to women. There is still a lot of backlash. It turns into this shitty loop- "I love the idea of making a product that is clearly more accessible to women clients, but maybe we shouldn't call it 'girl version X'." "We worked so hard making this product for you women, how dare you call us sexist!! Maybe we should just forget the whole thing!"

It drives me batty. I think at the heart of it, these guys think they fixed the problem a long time ago and that the squeaky wheel women are just over-sensitive. They believe that the deficiency has more to do with the face that there isn't much interest in our products in the female population- and there is some truth to that. But it also has to do with the lack of interest in questioning why our products aren't interesting to women. (MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE ALL THE ATTEMPTS ARE PUBLICLY CALLED "LITTLE LADY" OR "WOMEN-CAN-DO-IT-TOO.") But the righteous anger that comes out is what makes me really feel bad for the women they hire in marketing positions. I get snapped at and I'm just a boring free lancer.

Things are so much better, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some problems. If I see something glaringly offensive, or find out about some creepy dude's club where they Madmen their way into interns pants- I want to be able to speak up without having management trot out six examples of good policy to prove that my concerns are unfounded.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:03 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice here. Workplaces that don't have overt macho posturing and don't have lots of overt sexism can still have a problem recruiting and keeping women employees, for whatever reason (like they think that just being a decent workplace means that women will want to work there). IME as a woman and an engineer, this can be turned around with institutionalized mentoring of new employees (both male and female). It's tough to start in engineering - we tend to come out of college with the idea that we should know everything, and it's difficult to ask questions, especially if you are a lone woman in an office full of men. Setting up an explicit mentoring relationship can smooth over that transition.

Once there are women employees with seniority, now you can have women mentors (again, for both male and female employees) - having mixed-gender seniority sets a pretty clear tone and attracts better-quality candidates.

And yeah, the whole "assertive women are bitches" meme has got to end, period. What does it say to me, a lower-level engineer, when female middle managers are called "bitches" for doing their job? It says that I can't win, and I should find another job where my contributions won't be prejudicially disrespected.
posted by muddgirl at 6:09 AM on September 12, 2011

Loads of useful advice here. I popped in to offer a slightly different perspective. I work for the Royal College of Surgeons and we have invested a large amount of time effort and resources in attracting more women into surgery. It hasn't been very successful larly because of the culture in individual hospitals but that's a time limited problem and once the dinosaurs disappear we will see an big improvement. The critical success factor has been role models and facilitating conferences/ events where female surgeons sahre their experience and expertise in negotiating the toxic enviorment, as well obviously as taking action and being supportive when examples are provided of behaviour that simply won't wash.

One weirdly personal datapoint I can offer is that people who are attracted to surgery are a certain personality type and that personality type is more prevalent in the male gender than in the female gender so for surgery I'm not sure we will ever reach the equivalent of female representation in the population. Beforte anyone flames me for this after 10 years of working with literally hundreds of surgeons of all concievable backgrounds I am also convinced that there is a significant subset of them with diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions like OCD, Aspergers, and ASD and quite simply those conditions tend to be 9:1 male:female so this partly explains my weird theory. Once all the injustice is gone from the workplace and hiring I suspect we will still see some difference in certain professions due to personality.

I'm hoping that this is not the case tough, as this personality sub-type often have communications issues and we have some evidence that female physicians spend more time with patients and commincate in a more reassuring manner. (Can't recall the study and am not in a position right now to look it up, will if people want to discuss further)
posted by Wilder at 6:26 AM on September 12, 2011

Somewhat different perspective:
I've almost always worked in male-dominated workplaces. I've never given any thought to it.
Never had any issues.
What attracted me to the jobs were pay and the fact that there was actually more males.
posted by KogeLiz at 6:42 AM on September 12, 2011

I don't think we'll ever live in a world where every workplace which is 100% aligned with national ethnic or gender statistics - that's not a feasible. There will always be male-dominated workplaces in engineering.
posted by muddgirl at 6:52 AM on September 12, 2011

Speaking from long experience, the most important thing you can do is include (by policy) senior women on every search committee, every evaluation committee, and in every discussion about promotion or hiring.
posted by spitbull at 7:20 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to pick on PaulSC specifically, but the attitude in his post is, I think, a big part of the problem. My sisters both work in STEM fields, and they've each related to me at least one occasion where someone, upon meeting them for the first time, expressed some version of the following:

"Wow, you're a woman. I once hired a woman. It was in Nineteen-Diggity-Three, and she was the first woman we ever hired. She turned out not to be tough enough, and she cried a lot, and it made people uncomfortable. Then she quit. But as long as you don't cry and then quit, we'll be just fine."

In other words, because the coworker had so little experience with female employees, he assumed that my sister might be like the worst woman he had ever met. Can you imagine telling your new male colleagues "I once hired a man who flew into a fit of rage and punched a hole in a wall, but as long as you're not one of THOSE men, we'll be fine?" You wouldn't, because you have lots of other examples of normal, even great, male employees.

Singling out women, whether positively or negatively, because they're women is sexism, and it makes workplaces uncomfortable for a lot of women who enter them. To the extent that you can avoid doing that and just treat every woman as an employee as good as any other, that would be an improvement over the status quo in many STEM workplaces.

And by the way, making your first black coworker your team's "pet" is racism, no matter how much you liked the guy.
posted by decathecting at 8:19 AM on September 12, 2011 [20 favorites]

Much agreement on trying to tone down the office wife-griping. Similarly, I'd like to see less door opening and "ladies-first" in the office. It's just as othering as the tit-staring (which happens way too often but may be harder for men to realize). My gender shouldn't matter in the workplace.

Except provide free tampons and pads in the ladies room.
posted by travertina at 8:43 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sure others here will give you a lot of ideas on improving the workplace, so I'll take an oblique angle on your question. Your goal is improved gender diversity, and the root cause is that the pipeline you recruit from is imbalanced. Many people seem to think there are unfixable essentials that disproportionately dissuade women from the field: staring at a computer all day, "crunch time". I don't agree with Ben-Ari's philosophy of roughly 'life is hard, suck it up', and for the unavoidable aspects, an attitude of dismissal ("For someone to refuse to study computer science for this reason is simply ridiculus.") cannot help improve things.

Clearly, the gender gap is clearly a social phenomenon; there's plenty of women CS grad students in US universities. They're just from overseas. So if your firm starts handling visa paperwork, you'll get a better pipeline to recruit from. Or you can train women in other positions the way my grandmother was trained to be a programmer in the early 1970's. But doing that en masse today will need a lot of careful planning to avoid a schism between degreed professionals and those trained in the workplace. It's kind of already happening, with firms hiring women into QA, Project Management, and office support more than software engineering and programming.

Or you can work to change the American culture that pulls boys into computing and pushes girls out of it. By the time someone's deciding which major to choose, CS has already lost. Sexism in the workplace or conferences, while an embarrassing impediment to recruiting and retainment, is likely less influential overall than the massive marketing campaigns to get boys to buy more video games. My WAG is that about a third of American undergrad CS students currently go in hoping to get a job making video games, and a larger portion buy and play games.

TL;DR: The most likely outcome of fixing your workplace gender balance through recruiting and retainment is the decline of balance in another workplace.
posted by pwnguin at 9:47 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

- Make sure that your review, promotion, and bonus policies are fair and even-handed, and don't depend on vague impressions that "so-and-so is a self-starter and will go far." This is because men tend to be natural self-promoters, and women aren't socialized to be that way. Instead, focus on actual accomplishments and explicit goal-setting for professional advancment. A lot of women are great at setting and reaching goals once they are decided on, but don't do as well in an eat-what-you-kill environment.

- Start a formal mentorship program for ALL new employees, pairing them with more senior employees who have been successful. Hire a consultant to put together a real, substantive mentorship program, including training, communications testing, etc. Encourage them to meet weekly. This will help take apart the "old boys network," because women will have someone to whom they can turn for insider information. (I used to think such programs were unbearably cheesey, but since having been assigned a formal mentor at my new job, I've totally changed my mind.)

- Understand that young women might avoid your firm or leave early if it has a complete absence of women in upper level management. If NOBODY looks like you in management, then you pretty quickly get the picture that you're not welcome. FWIW, I have turned down interviews at more than one place because there were no women in the partnership.
posted by yarly at 10:18 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I work at an office where I'm the only woman, and informal mentorships have been the biggest thing that's helped me feel comfortable. If I have even one person I can ask "dumb" questions of without feeling like I'm letting down my gender (rather than just being a n00b who needs some help with something), I'm going to get stuck a lot less frequently. If mentor-like relationships don't arise organically when new people arrive, maybe a formal mentorship program would work too.
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:49 AM on September 12, 2011

I work in architecture, and in my current job most of my coworkers are engineers. There are some great things, and some not great things.

I have a government job, so we have lots of leave time that both men and women use. No one cares if you use it for non-kid things. Our hours are very sane and while you are expected to work very hard there is no expectation that you are owned by the job.

The boss of my team his fantastic. He's aware that women are perceived and treated differently, but ever makes a big deal of it which I think makes his responses more effective. I manage outside consultants and contractors and know that my boss has no patience for their attempts to go over my head to him. When one of the architects from another team seemed to be pursing one of the other women I work with, my boss seemed to shut it down discreetly. I feel like I'm seen as an individual and not a representative of my gender.

On the flip side, outside our team there is only one woman out of about twenty people. People have made comments that "the ladies are taking over" when I was hired. I've heard that some older women in another department called me and the woman hired right after me "the bimbettes". A surprisingly large number of the guys here seemed to think it was totally within their rights to complain that she cut her hair boy short today. People are always holding doors, referencing "the ladies", and the (only) mid-level woman who works with us has had her butt grabbed and was asked at her interview if she was going to get pregnant right away. I could go, but there isn't anything really new here, it's just an odd juxtaposition to my boss.

Previous jobs had other issues. At one we got a new boss after several months who almost exclusively sent male employees on the fun trips while keeping the women "at home". He also seemed unable to understand that I was the person in the office who handled metal detailing since I'd had the most experience. I'm pretty sure he was not conscious of either behavior.
posted by sepviva at 6:33 PM on September 12, 2011

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