All men workplace advice?
September 27, 2018 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I’ve never worked in an office that’s predominantly male before. But will be soon. Anything I need to be aware of?

I’m a woman. Young-ish looking. In the federal, tech, and policy sphere. I believe I’ll be reporting to a woman supervisor but everyone else- directors and main team—are all men. I think there may be a few other woman, but older than me.

I’ve only worked in predominantly women led settings. People have been telling me this will be a totally different experience and now I’m worried.
posted by inevitability to Work & Money (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It really depends on the culture but I definitely had to establish firm boundaries on my first day when one guy tried to make jokes that me and another were going to make out (as opposed to, you know, working). But here's hoping your new coworkers are a little more evolved.
I struggle with the right "tone" to use when asserting myself and I know I've been overlooked for opportunities because of my gender. It sucks, frankly.
Seems I don't have advice beyond establishing with a jokey yet firm tone the you are not to be messed with because you're a "girl".
posted by elke_wood at 7:09 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's nothing you can prepare for other than for it to be different. Every office is different and every group of men is different; it depends a lot on industry culture, regional culture, demographics of the office, etc.

You should be aware of the standard things women often face in these environments - being talked over, being interrupted, saying something that appears to have been ignored only for a man to re-state it later and be given credit, being assumed to be too passive and not "committed" if you don't speak up for yourself, being thought a bitch when you do speak up for yourself, and so on. Knowing what trends in behavior to watch out for will help you notice when they happen and address them. (I've worked with men before who treat me in subtly sexist ways who have turned out to be totally willing to be called out on it and change their behavior, so this is a thing that can happen)

You should be aware that the work environment and norms are often different in predominantly feminine vs predominantly masculine groups. I've worked in both, and find that there are different amounts of consensus building versus "someone just make an executive decision", arguing, beating around the bush, bluntness, giving and taking of credit, and so on depending on the group makeup. You'll need to feel this out.

I think the most important thing here is that nothing is biologically determined. There's no Men Are Like This and Women Are Like This because of brain differences or whatever - it's because men, generally speaking, and women, generally speaking, have lived their lives being socially rewarded for different types of behaviors, and the difference in that socialization is often quite visible in these situations. Remind yourself that the way you've been trained to be "nice" may be at odds with what it takes to succeed in this environment, and that you may have to step out of your comfort zone to succeed - whether that's calling out your colleagues, or whether that's acting differently yourself.

Will you be hit on or otherwise sexually harassed? Maybe. Maybe not. Cross that bridge when you come to it.

Find other women, either at this organization or in similar ones, who you can be friends with, whom you can learn from, and who can sanity check you and be your whisper network for this industry. That's the biggest thing. I coped as a woman in engineering for many years by being "one of the guys" and acting on my own internalized misogyny by insisting I was "too cool" to be friends with other women, but that was a huge self-own. There is no actual winning there. I would never *actually* be one of the guys, so giving everything I had toward acting that way was a waste of my energy and mental health. I feel more confident about my place in a male-dominated industry since I have connected with other women and formed strong professional and social relationships with them. Don't discount the importance of this.
posted by olinerd at 7:13 AM on September 27, 2018 [36 favorites]

Oh and do be prepared for the sometimes sort of hilarious Well-Intentioned Tokenism. "Oh, we're interviewing a woman today! Can you sit in on the panel?" "But I know nothing about the job she's interviewing for and I can't ask intelligent questions." "Yes but it'd be good for her to see we have women here!" Let's see, what else. "Hey, this news crew is filming us today. Do you mind making sure you're in the background so we don't look like all dudes?" Ah, and the classic, "We need to increase our diversity. Can you [implied here: and only you] find us some more women to apply to our jobs?"
posted by olinerd at 7:16 AM on September 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

Be conscious and aware that you *may be asked to do emotional labor for the department. As women, we fall into doing things to be "nice and agreeable." Look around and see if any of the men are ever asked to make lunch reservations. Or to order office supplies. Plan the holiday gathering. The only one who puts paper in the copier. Who makes coffee in the morning. Who cleans out the department fridge.

It's fine to be nice and agreeable. But it's also fine to say "I'm pretty new here, and I'd feel more comfortable if Chad/Mark/Brad/whoever worked with me on this." Don't do it alone to just prove yourself capable - that's shooting yourself in the foot. (I call it "shooting myself in the foot with my own competence.") Even though you're a professional, all of a sudden you'll be treated like their assistant.

*Not all departments. Not all men.
posted by librarianamy at 7:17 AM on September 27, 2018 [23 favorites]

Plus one on the tokenism - my previous employer was a big tech company with only one woman per team on average. They were also making a big push for diversity which included ensuring that all hiring loops for women had one woman on them. This meant that the few women devs there were spent a lot of their time doing interviewing, including international trips just to ensure the criteria was met.
posted by JonB at 7:26 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I just got out of a (white) male-dominated workplace. It really depends on the industry, I think. Federal sphere-that sounds public? Non profit? Because that may not be too bad.

My company was private and in a historically all-male industry, with a pretty macho, beer-drinking, party-hard culture, and I dealt with a lot of sideways comments. However, it stopped short of actual sexual harassment. One coworker saying I'd "look good in his car," things like that. Only truly boundary-crossing experience was one coworker who stroked my hair (yes, it was weird.) Unfortunately he retired before I could report him. I was also expected to be The Organized One in our team and take notes (neither of which was really my job and neither of which I was good at).

But yeah, I'm sorry to say it is different than working with women. I just started a new job that is more diverse and gender-balanced and the difference in my daily stress levels is night and day.
posted by coffeeand at 7:28 AM on September 27, 2018

I've worked in predominantly-male workplaces throughout my career (all my careers). It's not necessarily going to be like a frat house or anything - many of the guys may be decent, and many may just be too busy to do anything but focus on their work. Just treat it like you would any new office - you have a culture to learn about any time you go to a new workplace, and this one just happens to be all guys. You probably know what your own boundaries are in terms of harassment and workplace conduct; those boundaries would apply no matter what kind of office you would be in, so just do whatever you would do if you are harassed. The fact that there are mostly men in your new office would only increase the odds of your being harassed if there is already a culture there of covering up harassment, and the fact that it's all guys doesn't necessarily mean that it's any more likely that covering up harassment is something they'd do.

You may even notice that the guys may be a little self-conscious about their behavior for a while because "ooh, wait, inevitability is here now and she's a girl, we have to be careful" and so some guys may get a little flustered if they go to make a joke but they second-guess themselves because they aren't sure how you're going to take it. That happened to me on a play when it was all men in the cast and I was the stage manager; every so often they'd crack a bawdy joke amongst themselves, then suddenly blink and turn to me and sheepishly apologize. Most of the time I wasn't offended so I just chuckled and teased them back a little bit ("no, carry on, this is a fascinating insight into male psychology...."). If I ever was offended (I think maybe only once was that the case) I calmly said something to that effect.

Upon reflection, that may be the only advice I have - I tend to be naturally prone to asserting my boundaries when it comes to being offended, and that actually helps the situation. People have learned early on that "okay, this is just a no-fly zone around EC, got it" and they just stop doing it. So when they later make a joke about something that doesn't offend me, and I don't say anything, they then know that it's okay. So - don't be shy about speaking up if you don't like a particular line of joking or conversation; it doesn't have to be a Formal Mission Statement, just a simple "guys...I kinda don't think this is cool," so they know you don't like it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on September 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm currently working in an all male department (of 4, my supervisor is also a man). However, I am in a female-dominant profession.

The biggest thing to watch out for is the emotional labor aspect of things. And baking. I like to bake on occasion and would often bring stuff in, but I stopped after I realized that the guys were expecting me to do that.

But every office is going to be different. I've lucked out in that the guys in my office are pretty decent human beings (at least as far as my dealings with them are concerned).
posted by sperose at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think everyone has covered what I was going to say. Just going to suggest reading Feminist Fight Club.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:51 AM on September 27, 2018

Every office has it's own culture. Your male co-workers could turn out to be gentlemen, or they may be partially civilized apes. Time will tell. My experience is that most reasonable people will get a sense of what kind of person you are, and what you will put up with.

Stereotypes are hard to combat, even when you're conscious that they should not apply. If the boss needs to ask someone to make the coffee and his choices are Rambo and Martha Stewart, he's gonna go with Martha every time.

Along the same line, it may be hard to separate being treated as "the girl" from being treated as "the newest/most junior person." Try not to be quick to take offense.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:52 AM on September 27, 2018

Pregnancy and child rearing are such isolating experiences. Men, especially the well-to-do married men likely to fill your office space, just don’t get it.

There might be a culture of face time that has to be pushed back. If career advancement is predicated on appearance at happy hours, overtime, or travel you are out of luck. Mother’s rooms, if they exist, may be taken up by men as nap rooms or quiet work rooms due to underutilization, then you get to fight to pump. Men can “helpfully” try to accommodate you by mommy tracking your career.

In the early childhood years, or if you’re a single parent all of the childhood years, you may struggle to make lunchtime conversation as all of your free time has been consumed by children. You might not have the time for the sorts of hobbies, reading, or travel that make for engaging lunchtime conversation with men. Good luck making a friend who you can share your experiences with parenting.

It’s tough to have to spend your time minimizing such a major part of your life just to fit in.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:55 AM on September 27, 2018

Oops, one more thing. You probably already know this and hopefully you have some choice of where your workspace is, but if you can, try to not be the first desk by the front door of your office. Otherwise you'll probably wind up being the "secretary" for any visitors. Especially if you have a plant on your desk. (I'm the last desk in the row of cubicles from the front door and every so often, newcomers will ignore the men at the other cubes to walk all the way back to my desk to ask me a question.)
posted by sperose at 8:12 AM on September 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

I strongly agree with much of this, particularly watching out for tokenism.

One thing that continues to surprise me, despite having worked in a highly male-dominated field for over a decade, is the male comments on my clothes/accessories. I don’t know why they do this, though it feels like a combination of “typical men trying to compliment a woman” and “men not knowing how to speak to women colleagues because they never do.” Probably also complicated by the general lack of a women’s dress code analogous to men’s “plaid/striped/solid button up shirt with khakis,” so my attire is more varied and often more colorful?

Anyway. I bring it up because the one time I worked in a mostly-notmen environment I hardly ever got awkward comments on my physical appearance, but men (surrounded by other men) seem to think that kind of thing is ok.
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 8:51 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

document everything. make sure all assignments given to you are in writing, even if this means emailing the person who gave it to you, describing the task(s), and ending with "is this an accurate summary of what you asked me to work on" or similar.

laugh the first time someone asks you to make them coffee.

if (when) things start to feel creepy or bad, forward all relevant email discussions bcc to an outside address for later on.

you are a newly hired young woman in an office full of older men. therefore these men should be viewed as the cops: they're not your friends, don't tell them anything that could be used against you. no discussions of any aspect of your personal life outside of work, no matter how innocuous.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:00 AM on September 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

I think the one thing that sticks out for me is that I am far more often interrupted by men than women. It's not out of malice and generally speaking I really like my male colleagues but damn, they do this a lot.

I would suggest practicing saying, "Excuse me, I wasn't finished." or some variation, confidently and matter of factly. (Frankly, I need to work on this as well!)
posted by like_neon at 9:12 AM on September 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Dress more professionally and conservatively than your peers; do not talk about your personal life. You may be talked over, interrupted, and passed over for opportunities. You may be viewed as less competent, less knowledgeable, and less serious than peers with similar experience. Be very careful of all the times you are asked to take notes, schedule meetings, keep other people organized, or whatever admin/not-your-job tasks fall on your plate. Do not be self-deprecating as a means of making ingratiating inroads with people; it's a tactic over-used by women.

Personally, I tend to giggle when I talk as a way of softening what I say (no matter how valid my words), and after attending a company/vendor meeting with two other women and a whole host of men -- and hearing THOSE women constantly sprinkle their speech with giggling despite being senior designers & project managers -- I am trying to eradicate that from my speech pattern entirely.

I work in a company/industry of almost all men, but my division has a woman supervisor who has been here a decade. I firmly believe her presence has made my life MUCH easier.

Highly, highly recommend Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett. It's a must read.
posted by missmary6 at 9:18 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

The most effective combo is friendly and patient about non-competence-related stuff and 100% inflexible about establishing yourself as competent and serious as a worker. I’ll listen politely to a boring story and/or laugh at jokes. I’ll even bring in baked goods. But I insist on taking credit for my ideas. I don’t use weasel words like “I think.” When I’m right I assert myself. I don’t downplay my work. I don’t apologize for mistakes unless I should have known better. I don’t act grateful to be there. I don’t do work that is beneath my pay grade. I don’t let men get away with interrupting me; I don’t fight with them but I muscle myself back into the conversation and make my point. This combo seems to work well.

Men are typically highly attuned to subtle status plays and will get the picture if you assert yourself and claim your space. You usually don’t have to explicitly set boundaries, and doing so may be seen as over-the-top because men usually jostle with each other without ever being explicit about what’s going on. (Also b/c sexism, of course.)

The fact that there’s a female supervisor is a really good sign and I think this will turn out okay, so don’t be too nervous!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:24 AM on September 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, older men aren’t necessarily worse. IME a lot of older men have daughters who are adult-ish and it makes them more sensitive to the issues that younger women deal with in the workplace. No, they shouldn’t need that in order to be empathetic, but it does seem to help. Some of my biggest champions have been 50-60+yo men. (Caveat: in my field it’s common for women to go into the same field as one or more of their parents, so older men will often have daughters who are literally in a similar spot, career-wise).
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:42 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Every office is different, but there is one kinda unexpected, hard-to-get-used-to thing that's universal. We will talk loudly and publicly about taking dumps. This happens in majority-female offices, too, but less publicly. When there are few other women around, though, it comes out in the open. Be prepared to be on a phone call when a co-worker loudly proclaims that he's gotta go drop some bombs, or eating your lunch when two co-workers compare the toilets they've clogged. Even more vulgar euphemisms (true story, I once had a colleague announce he was "dropping the Cosbys off at the pool") are common. You will not believe how often we talk about poop.

Relatedly, this may not be a problem for you, since you presumably work in a federal building, but just in case: make sure you have a separate bathroom. In addition to the aforementioned frequent defecation, where there are significantly more men than available urinals, we will use the sit-down stalls to urinate, which invariably results in large puddles of urine on the floor, thereby rendering the bathroom unusable for someone who has to sit.

These sound facetious, but I'm totally serious. You're (understandably) worrying about things like sexual harassment and glass ceilings, and something like this probably isn't even on your radar, but in terms of day-to-day quality of life, this will definitely affect you.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:48 AM on September 27, 2018

It really depends on the office and the particular culture there. I've spent almost my entire career as the only woman in a group at work (including now), and each situation was different. I've never had a problem with harassment or discrimination, including now, when I am pregnant. I've likely been lucky, that and my field tends to be filled more with the gentle, nerdy type than the alpha bro type.

That being said, it helps to make friends. Make friends, so they don't see you as the Other, which can hurt your career. I'm privy to all gossip, etc, because I am seen as one of the dudes (I also have a blunt, straightforward, jokey personality, which, not really rightly, comes off as male-ish in our culture). They know they can say anything they say to each other in front of me--that being said, I think they also know that if something terrible came out of someone's mouth, I'd call them on it, because I also make a point of coming across as more assertive than maybe I would if I were in a group with other women in it. And, I don't think it is ever good to cry at work, no matter who your coworkers are, but don't cry at work if you're the type who has ever cried at work--in a group with all men, that will be taken badly.
posted by millipede at 10:53 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, one more thing: the one time I experienced any negativity because of my gender was with another woman--a woman at another job I had, an older woman who didn't even supervise me directly or work with me directly, took me aside and told me I needed to be gentler and less aggressive in my negotiation strategy, because "women are different than men, and what works for them won't work for you." I ignored it and it has worked for me ever since (and I have never, ever been told anything like this by a man).
posted by millipede at 10:58 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you all. I will say one worry is that I’m adjusting as a new mom and I’m a giggly sort of person. (Sigh.)
posted by inevitability at 10:58 AM on September 27, 2018

Giggling in and of itself is no problem, really. My life got a lot happier and easier when I gave the fuck up on appeasing men in any sort of way whatsoever. I gleefully and readily switch from giggling like a twelve-year-old to ripping a new one on fellow managers (who deserve being ripped, it's factual and constructive) within the bat of an eye, and am well respected where I work. The key thing is to always aim for shared success (yeah, we don't always get credit for this, but still), be constructive even if/when you need to rip someone a new one, and I realize that being assertive differs according to workplaces in how it's viewed, but I live in super-sexist France, work at director level with all-male teams, and am openly assertive when needed. I have literally shouted over dudes in meetings who interrupted to say "you're going to let me finish, do NOT fuck with me" when they were trying to pull shit that put major projects at high risk – but always constructively so and with solutions followed up. The word is that I'm nice! Yep! And I keep getting more responsibilities and having my contracts prolonged, because I move teams forward and follow my own advice (I don't fuck with people). It all has to do with facts and constructiveness. Do I also get blowback? Yes, and only from assholes. Honestly I would say this is key to realizing too: if you're factual, have done your job, know that what you're suggesting will move everyone forward – you've honestly listened to and evaluated other viewpoints and KNOW your suggestion is valid – then people who suggest shit that is obviously shit, well, they're obviously bullshitting. Do not take it personally when they try to make it personal. That's the only card they have left to play, and it's an asshole card.

The only "appeasing" I still do is this. This. This. This.
poffin boffin (I removed the "older men" because age doesn't matter, it really doesn't): "these men should be viewed as the cops: they're not your friends, don't tell them anything that could be used against you. no discussions of any aspect of your personal life outside of work, no matter how innocuous."

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I strenuously followed that advice, only to let up on ONE TINY THING 8-10 months later (8-10 months later!!!!) and it fucking fell to pieces. The only things I mention about my personal life now are that I'm single – and I only say so once, nothing more, because I don't have kids and never talk about a partner, so it's all consistent (consistency goes along with always being factual) – and I have cats. I share photos of my cats all the time on breaks. Only on breaks, and only when others have already said ridiculous things. That way if anyone dares tease me about being a cat lady, I can clap back with a joke about the ridiculous thing they just shared.
posted by fraula at 11:24 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Make allies with the few women there. It feels stupid to have to defend another woman's ideas if you don't agree, but to a reasonable extent, do it. I tend to be a very black-and-white, objective personality, and it took me a while to learn that cultivating relationships at work is sometimes more important than a small temporary project.

In additional to overt emotional labor like making coffee, do not fall into the trap of playing the team peacemaker. Let the guys duke it out among themselves and don't take sides.

I personally have never experienced harassment or overt sexism despite always being in male-dominated environments, but I have dealt with things like men feeling threatened, belittling me, trying to pit coworkers against me, and resenting when I get a good project or recognition. Don't assume that quietly doing your work well will change their attitude. Actively seek out the support of colleagues of both genders, return that support, keep doing good work, and switch jobs and teams when the opportunity arises.
posted by redlines at 12:33 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Be very very careful about what you teach them to value you for. I think it's very easy for women, particularly when junior, or new at a job, to work hard to please people and solve problems. But if you become the go-to person for interpersonal, or admin, or logistics problem solving, you teach them to make that more of your job, and by default to make substantive work less of your job. IF you get the shit work done, they have an incentive to rely on you to do that, not an incentive to protect your other substantive work.

Ask me how I know.
posted by mercredi at 1:10 PM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I work in a fairly male oriented world, and I've found that many of the woman who work in this area prefer working with men. Which can make it harder to make relationships with some of the women. Just a heads up, in case you wonder why some of the women a prickly.
posted by kjs4 at 6:22 PM on September 27, 2018

Ok, I'm in a similar position gender-wise and while we are not every company, a few things that I have observed:
- Speak up for your boundaries, or they will assume you can do everything they throw at you until you burn out
- Men express anger more explosively and easily. It's not personal, unless they are a bully and looking for someone young and female. In which case, build strong ties with your female supervisor or someone else trusted and in a position of power
- Casual sexism is a thing, particularly when they "forget" you are a woman amidst them
- They don't work as hard at suppressing their egos.

I can present as pretty "giggly", as you put it, and young -- what has worked for me is a) establishing a niche for myself that I am competent in and is not easily replicable b) getting mad (the cold-anger kind) when it is worth it, so that they learn not to cross me even if I seem all happy and easy going.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 8:31 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I didn't respond to this originally, because I didn't think what I had to say would be useful, but: It's reasonable to be worried. Best-case scenario, they act like humans and treat you like a human. IME that's not the most likely best-case scenario--which is that there's never much you can really put your finger on, but you find yourself inexplicably more tired at the end of every work day, and you may not even realize it. It's just from having to constantly monitor and censor yourself, navigating around male privilege crap that you can see coming and they've opted to be unaware of, always having to wonder if the reason you were or weren't chosen for x/commended for y/asked to do z is because you're a woman, having to choose whether to address shitty things when they happen, etc. etc. I mean--this happens in every job, really, but it's going to be really amplified in this setting. At least, if you have much self-awareness.

Good luck, and if you wind up finding that it's not for you, remember that you're not the problem.
posted by wintersweet at 12:14 PM on September 29, 2018

You know what, one more thing: There's a lot of well-meaning advice above about establishing boundaries, stepping out of your comfort zone, and generally altering your behavior to be more like male professional behavior. There's nothing wrong with this advice per se, but I think it's important to keep a few things in mind if you're a woman in a male-dominated environment:

1. These behaviors aren't better than the way that you naturally behave or have been socialized to behave. The fact that they are more valued means nothing. Don't feel like you are correcting deficits; you're not, you're choosing or being pressured into following norms that have been arbitrarily designated as desirable in our society.

2. It is OK if these changes aren't comfortable for you. If you decide not to adopt some or all of them, there's still nothing wrong with you. Some women will tell you that you're failing feminism by not behaving in a more masculine way. They are wrong. Men who will tell you you're just not trying are also wrong. (It's also OK if the changes are comfortable for you!)

3. Making the changes may not benefit you or may backfire on you. Despite the conventional wisdom that women would get ahead in business more if they just do this or that, there's plenty of evidence that this isn't the case. (See the research on what actually happens when women ask for salaries, etc.) That's not to discourage you or say these strategies are always bad, just that if they don't work, it's not you.
posted by wintersweet at 12:28 PM on September 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

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