Lads, Everywhere!
February 13, 2016 2:34 AM   Subscribe

I started a new job a month ago and i'm the only woman on a team of geek-lads in their 20s. How can I include myself in 'the team'?

The guys on my team are all in their 20s apart from two managers who are in their 40s. I'm in my early 30s. We are split into 3 tables. Their jokes across these tables involve emails that they've sent each other. I have no idea how I could even begin to feel part of that. They socialise after work by going to the pub which is an environment i'm not comfortable in and I don't enjoy. I also have a few classes to attend after work and so I am unable to go. I am not being excluded from going. The manager invites me but it feels as if 'he has to'. He's more awkward than I am and cannot make eye contact with me. Last week we had a meeting with another guy and he only spoke to and looked at him even when I was speaking. He letches at "hot" girls but I am far from that so I think he doesn't know what to 'do' with me? It's just a feeling of 'they speak to me if it's necessary'. As a result, I find myself withdrawing inward. I just don't feel particularly comfortable in the group. I can speak to a few of them one-on-one and the guy opposite me is really nice and interesting but with most of them there's a sense of 'these are my buddies who I joke with and I don't joke with you'.

How does a girl/woman maker herself part of a boys-club environment? I only feel out of place at work. When I leave work I don't ever think 'I wish I was with them at the pub' but then I am an introvert. Is it 'ok' to decide to only have a threadbare professional connection with them? Is it 'ok' to build friends within other teams? There are friendlier, more inclusive people on other teams at work who I feel I can bond with more. If they were going out, i'd probably go with them.
posted by ihaveyourfoot to Work & Money (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As a token oldie at work, I either go to lunch one on one with team members, or I join at the pub for one drink (often non-alcoholic) and try to talk and listen for 45 minutes, and then leave. Going for one drink is enough for them to feel I made an effort, but not so long that any of us really get bored with my presence. Would something like that work for you?
posted by frumiousb at 3:01 AM on February 13, 2016 [13 favorites]

Ugh, I've been in this situation and in my experience, I'd give up on feeling like part of the team. Even when I felt like we had bonding experiences, the next day it would be like we were back to square one. In your shoes, I'd make an effort to make small talk every day to try to get to "friendly coworker" status, and try to have a very thick skin about the inside jokes and feeling of exclusion. I'd also cultivate relationships with people on other times who you like more. It's important to have a good enough relationship with your team that you feel comfortable working together and you're in the loop on information that should be shared, but beyond that I wouldn't count on it or try very hard to become one of them.
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:13 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

How does a girl/woman maker herself part of a boys-club environment?

Television makes these daily sacrifices possible. Deadens the inner core of your being.

Is it 'ok' to decide to only have a threadbare professional connection with them? Is it 'ok' to build friends within other teams?

Yes and yes.
posted by flabdablet at 5:12 AM on February 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

You should definitely feel free to cultivate relationships with people from other departments/teams. I've done this in offices where I didn't really fit in with my own team, and it helped make the workdays more pleasant.

Can you make time in your schedule to join your team for one drink once every couple weeks? Try it at least twice and see if it gradually becomes less awkward. If it doesn't, you can at least say you made an effort.

In the meantime, keep chatting with people one on one. You probably won't become great friends, but you may develop some rapport with them that will help if you're assigned to the same projects in the future.
posted by Owlcat at 5:32 AM on February 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in the same boat, except that I'm also remote.

With regard to your immediate team: Bare cordiality works. If further conversations happen, that's great, but trying to "push" the issue will backfire (not saying that you've done that).

And don't bother with the pubgoing if it makes you uncomfortable. "Sorry, I have other plans tonight."
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:41 AM on February 13, 2016

Do keep it professional. You don't need to be their buddy to get the job done and, as a woman, it's actually better if you are not. Socialize with other teams if you must socialize at work. Otherwise, keep the social stuff for after hours. If you excel at your job and speak up in meetings, then you should be fine. The last thing that you need is for one of your team members to develop feelings for you. It doesn't matter that you don't look like Angelina Jolie. Boys will be boys and they are all very aware that you are a female. There is no reason to give them any more personal information than that.
posted by myselfasme at 5:50 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

You probably do have some commonality with at least a couple of your coworkers, but it's hard to know what it might be and with which ones, when you don't know each other at all yet. Your best bet may be to talk more, and wait for something you say to get one of them to talk to you. I'm not saying share all your inner thoughts, but come in some morning and say "sorry I missed you guys at the pub, but class last night was fantastic, wouldn't have missed that, the prof had a guest speaker in from ___." "oh, pivot tables? I'm doing stuff with that in my class project, blah blah class blah" "Hey are you talking about $TV? I'm a couple of episodes behind I think, his dad's still missing." "I made the best pasta last night, have you ever cooked with fontina?" Just say something.
When somebody asks "any plans for the weekend?" my immediate response is to assume I'm way lamer than anybody can imagine, and anything I'm looking forward to is widely perceived as terrible, therefore I shouldn't admit to anything. So I say ,"nah, nothing much, you?" But I'm trying to change that. "Oh, there's a guest instructor at my yoga gym, I'm going to a workshop." Do they think yoga's lame? So what, at least they're judging me for myself instead of for a smokescreen.

It's perfectly fine not to want to meet them on their terms (at the pub, making misogynist comments, passing email jokes) but they can't meet you on your terms if you don't at least slightly invite them.
posted by aimedwander at 5:56 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

2nd frumiousb and Owlcat, I think you should go to the pub with them, even if for one drink, at least a couple of times. I doubt you'll make it into the email chain, but making an effort that way will (I bet) at least help take the chill off and loosen things up as far as the group dynamic goes. You're already actually fine with a few of them one on one, and I bet you'll find *something* more in common with them, given the opportunity to chat in a non-work context.

(What is it about pubs you dislike? What can you do to increase your sense of comfort?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:33 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I too work with a lot of "lads". What worked for me was to cultivate individual relationships with my co-workers. I don't go into the mancave for Friday donuts, despite being invited, I knew the invitation was just them being polite and it would not go over well. And really, I didn't want to go in the mancave for donuts. What I have done is try to find things I have in common with them as individuals - one is from a common home state, one enjoys a favorite author of mine - and got to know them that way. When we are all working together, while I'm not part of their clique, I do have positive working relationships with each of them and that makes it more pleasant all around.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:45 AM on February 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've struggled with been the sole woman on male-dominated teams so often, I've come to look at these awkward work situations as an opportunity to show some leadership. Hell, you're going to stand out anyway, why not stand out in a positive way?

You're there to do a job. That job does not necessarily include socializing. You have to get along with your coworkers on work-related matters, be polite, pleasant, and all that stuff, but building friendships or being part of the after-work pub gang is definitely not part of your job. Once you get to a point where you truly don't care what your coworkers think of you, that takes a lot of pressure off you. That will help you do an even better job, and no one will even think to judge you for being or not being part of the clique on your work team because you've made it a complete non-issue. You're being a mature professional, doing your job and not causing any trouble. No one can find fault with that.

Once you achieve that state of blissful detachment, you'll take a lot of pressure off yourself and also your coworkers. And maybe, just maybe, they'll learn something from the experience.That's leadership.

Oh, and they usually come around, so the whole nature of the group changes to accommodate and embrace your presence. That's when you know you've won.
posted by DrGail at 6:54 AM on February 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Are your work interactions fine? I mean except for the awkward manager, are you getting the info you need to do your job? Are the guys there responding to work emails/requests? What I mean is, is the gulf between you and them impacting your work? If not, then try not to worry about it. Like DrGail says, it's work not social hour. You are not the first person to feel like a loner at work. There's always someone who feels like they don't fit it. Maybe it just seems more significant since it's a gender separation here. But this happens all the time in virtually every workplace.

I'd suggest that you just do your thing. Be your completely professional, cordial but not gushing self. I'd be willing to be a lot of money that there's at least one guy there who doesn't love the dudebro socializing either. That's certainly the way it is at my job. I can tell who's a true dudebro and who would rather have adult conversations. Instead of thinking you are being a wet blanket, maybe think of yourself as modeling professionalism and a good work ethic. Think of yourself as actually helping them rather seeking a way for them to help you.

Good luck! Signed,
A 48 year old woman about to be career changer doing internships with college grads
posted by Beti at 8:13 AM on February 13, 2016

The manager invites me but it feels as if 'he has to'.

And also, maybe assume the positive here. It sounds like he's socially awkward but is trying to be inclusive. Maybe instead of assuming he is strictly doing his duty, maybe assume he is trying to be a good manager. Is it possible he recognizes that you are an introvert and is trying to to help you fit in? Or recognizes that you are a positive influence on the 20 year old dudebros?

And I know I just said "don't worry about socializing" but if you do want to try to fit in, how about organizing something on the weekend that's not a pub? Some sort of sporting event? Concert? Movie? There have been questions here before along the same lines. And the good advice I've read is to not wait for them to invite you. Push yourself a bit and invite them. Don't try to invite a headbanger to the ballet but surely there is some movie that you can all enjoy? Or a stand-up comedian performing? Something that is social but not a situation where you have to make a lot of conversation. Then, voila!, you have something in common to talk with them about come Monday morning.
posted by Beti at 8:28 AM on February 13, 2016

1. First and foremost: You don't have to pander. Be professional and friendly; you don't have to be friends. I wish I had learned this a long, long, long time ago.

2. They are much more afraid of you than you are of them. Don't be afraid to jump into a conversation that sparks your interest (if you feel like it--see #1). They have no idea how to relate to you and they will be grateful.

3. The advice to give them stuff to talk to you about, is good advice. I'm an outgoing person so I tend to talk loudly and self-deprecatingly about my interests, which become My Thing, which they can tease me about too. Jazzercise was a favorite. Attempting to learn to cook was another.

4. If it will make you feel more comfortable, it's OK to not be 100% yourself, too. I joined a fantasy football league (I do love shit-talking). My dad used to watch American Idol religiously (back in its heyday) just so he could participate in office conversations. Sports are good for this. Lots of TV is good for this. Silly animal videos are basically a universal language. If that really makes you feel disingenuous--see #1.
posted by ista at 8:48 AM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a very successful woman in my office, everyone is totally enamored with her, as a friend and a professional. I think it's a combination of:

* She's really good at her job, period.
* She doesn't talk like a "girl." No uptalk, no vocal fry.
* She talks well, overall. No "ums" or verbal filler. You can't not listen to her.
* She talks about cool hobbies (rock-climbing, scotch tastings, travel).
* She dresses well, but is neither flashy nor overly conservative.

What it comes down to is, be a good person, and this will work out on its own.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:58 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

A lot of geek-lads in their 20s are just like everyone else, underneath...
posted by colie at 10:30 AM on February 13, 2016

I will second "establish relationships one on one". This is a little tricky, because you do not want it to read as romantic interest. But it is much easier to get past any awkwardness, etc, talking to people individually. So, try to be chatty if you and one other person happen to be alone in the break room and that kind of thing.

Regardless of what you think may be going on, blame your absence from the pub on the fact that you have other obligations in the evening in the vein of "Sounds fun! I would love to, but can't because REASON." Make sure they do not feel blamed and make sure you do not signal that you are feeling excluded. Let folks know it simply is not possible.

After you cultivate enough individual connections, at some point, the group dynamic will subtly change. You don't have to be too chummy and you probably should not be too chummy. But you want the guys to not be scared of talking to you. You want to be approachable and make them feel like it will not be the end of the world if they are socially awkward or "too bro" or something. Take responsibility for actively reassuring people that everything is cool. You need the lines of communication to stay open.

Don't be a doormat and don't put up with actual mistreatment, but go out of your way to make them feel at ease talking to you.
posted by Michele in California at 10:50 AM on February 13, 2016

Pranks! Or goofy little things like when Easter comes around, get a bunch of plastic Easter eggs, fill them with chocolate, and hide them all over the office early Monday morning after Easter weekend. (I *still* get occasional emails from my old coworkers almost 5 years after leaving that job about them finding the occasional egg that I hid really, really well.)
posted by Jacqueline at 6:08 AM on February 14, 2016

Oh and to properly pull off the Easter eggs thing, once they figure out that you're responsible for the surprise chocolate you must absolutely stick to your story with a straight face that no, it must have been the Easter Bunny.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:10 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots to think about! Thanks for the suggestions. I think one of the problems is that I have never really cultivated non-romantic friendships with young men, only older men, so I am not exactly natural with them. And now I'm dealing with a group of them. I can be boisterous and jokey with some of my female friends but I can't really let go with young guys. They are aliens to me and also more 'exclusive'. I completely accept that this is an issue for both sides.

They are professional, yes. There are 1 or 2 who I do not feel I could approach but I dont have any need to as they have only been there for a few months.

My problem with pubs is firstly that it's a very male environment (with exception of those gastropubs) and I've had bad experiences in them - sexist comments, bad treatment - but the main thing is the pressure to bring conversation because there is no other distraction. It's easier to deal with awkward silences when work or *task* can cover them up.

I think I will attend the next pub quiz and leave once it's done if I don't feel right about it but I feel as if i'm forcing myself to do it. I would prefer to keep it professional at this point.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2016

I would work on getting to know them individually. Ask how their weekend was, ask if they have pets or kids, ask about hobbies. I would try to go to the pub once in a awhile. Bring a mental list of topics, but it's okay to be quiet, laugh at good jokes, and not be totally chatty. It's okay to leave early.
posted by theora55 at 2:07 PM on February 15, 2016

Going to a pub and going to a pub quiz are completely different. The quiz IS the distraction which provides conversation. If there is a pause in the action, you talk about the previous questions or the possible future ones, or you talk about what happened in your past which caused you to know the obscure answer that surprised everyone. If there is a longer pause that would require you to think up something completely new, just go to the restroom at that time.
posted by CathyG at 12:14 PM on February 16, 2016

I think one of the problems is that I have never really cultivated non-romantic friendships with young men, only older men

Pretend they are your sons/younger brothers/nephews/younger cousins.

I have two adult sons in their twenties. I am very comfortable talking to men in their twenties. For starters, I assume romance is out of the question, so I proceed to be a combination of buddy-buddy and motherly.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:28 PM on February 16, 2016

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