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  1. #1
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    Sep. 16, 2010
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    Default Woman in a male-dominated field. How to find a mentor in my career?

    I am in my mid-twenties, single, working in a very intense job in a male-dominated field at a very prestigious company. In fact, I am soon to be the only woman at my company, which has 27 employees. (The other woman, also in her twenties, is leaving because she feels the pressure is too great.) Most of the guys are in their thirties. I've been at this job for about a year now.

    I feel very alone. I wish I could connect with another more experienced woman in my field or a similar field who could share advice and give me some support.

    The work at my company is very team-oriented, such that I am working closely with the men almost all day, every day. For the most part they are great guys, and great to work with, although the culture does tend towards a "Frat house" sometimes. I am not thin-skinned or a prude, and can take their jokes and one-up them and drink beers with them after work. But there is a lot of stress associated with being "The girl". Some of the problems i deal with from day-to-day:

    1. The guys aren't always cordial with one another. They say what they mean, they argue with one another all the time, and sometimes the debates get quite heated. But if I get the least bit terse or distant (say if I'm in the middle of thinking something through and someone interrupts me) or if I get assertive, they either think I'm a bitch, or they start asking me things like "What's wrong? are you ok?" Yes. I'm fine. I just want you to treat me like an equal.
    2. I've dealt with sexual harrassment both from inside and outside the company. Outside the company, a client (who must have been in his sixties) decided he could start making lewd comments and hitting on me. Stuff like, "Hey baby. That's great work. I should take you home and really thank you!" (wags eyebrows) I put up with it for awhile and then I told my boss, who got livid and pulled me off the project because he didn't want me to be treated that way. I was glad but I also felt really powerless and sad. When it comes from inside the company, it's always more subtle and thus harder to deal with because oftentimes I think they don't know they are being offensive.
    3. The wives. Most of the guys are married and their wives work part-time or stay at home with the kids. The guys are all buddies with one another but I can only get "so close" to them before it would be improper, you know? So that in itself is isolating. Most of the wives are really cool and I love to hang out with them when we have company social functions. I want to make sure they don't think I'm a "threat".
    4. Being that I am one of the first women at the company, the pressure to succeed is huge. My boss is always putting me front and center with media and clients to show that "we're not just a bunch of guys!" If I were to fold under the pressure, I would feel like I failed myself and the company, because this is the career I've always wanted to have. I actually started on antidepressants three months ago because the anxiety was eating me alive and I wasn't enjoying my life or my work. The meds have helped but I still don't like the idea that I'm dependent on medication just to survive in my job.


    I know some of you COTHers may be in similar situations or have dealt with similar things in the past. If you have any experience or ideas related to these problems please do share! And if you have any suggestions of how I could connect with somebody in my industry that would be so helpful too.

    If you read all this you get a cookie and a glass of wine



  2. #2
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    Jan. 14, 2003
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    Massachusetts
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    What industry are you in? I also work in a male dominated industry. My company is large and has some women in the technical roles but it is very much a male dominated, boys club culture with a very well defined glass ceiling.

    Same with my partner who is in management and manages a group of men. The guys who work for her are great but the other group of R&D engineers won't listen to a word she says despite the fact that she could have prevented many costly and time consuming disasters had they listened to her questions and advice. It seems many men do not hear what co-workers say if they do not have a penis.



  3. #3
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    May. 12, 2008
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    I worked in quite a few male dominated fields and my current job in the AF Reserves is male dominated. Here is some of what I learned.

    Quote Originally Posted by ArabDiva View Post
    [LIST=1][*]The guys aren't always cordial with one another. They say what they mean, they argue with one another all the time, and sometimes the debates get quite heated. But if I get the least bit terse or distant (say if I'm in the middle of thinking something through and someone interrupts me) or if I get assertive, they either think I'm a bitch, or they start asking me things like "What's wrong? are you ok?" Yes. I'm fine. I just want you to treat me like an equal.
    If they call you a bitch, then fine, you are a bitch - own it. It is very common in corporate world for an assertive woman to be considered a bitch. Depending on the situation, I sometimes engage the person with something like, "You know, Sam just did the same thing and somehow you guys don't think he's a bitch....interesting that." Sometimes helps to keep it light, like, "I guess Sam is a bitch also." or "I can't help being more of a real man than you pansies."


    Quote Originally Posted by ArabDiva View Post
    [*]I've dealt with sexual harrassment both from inside and outside the company. Outside the company, a client (who must have been in his sixties) decided he could start making lewd comments and hitting on me. Stuff like, "Hey baby. That's great work. I should take you home and really thank you!" (wags eyebrows) I put up with it for awhile and then I told my boss, who got livid and pulled me off the project because he didn't want me to be treated that way. I was glad but I also felt really powerless and sad. When it comes from inside the company, it's always more subtle and thus harder to deal with because oftentimes I think they don't know they are being offensive.
    Depending on the situation, witty comments are a great defense. He wants to 'thank you'. Well, "yeah, you don't have the skills to thank me." That is, if you read that the person won't take something like that as a challenge. If unsure of the situation, I just roll my eyes, ignore the comment, say something like "oh, funny man" or, if necessary, confront the person with another coworker present, with a very clear statement that they are out of line.

    As far as at the workplace goes, I have found it best to generally not engage in any sex-related talk. The result is that people think I'm a prude and keep the sex talk to a minimum in my presense. That's not necessary in the workplace anyway. I will engage in banter with guys that have some maturity, but the group I work with ranges in age from 20-50+. Usually, with the 20-somethings, it is best to keep it 100% professional and with the older set, they get that banter is not an invitation.

    Quote Originally Posted by ArabDiva View Post
    [*]The wives. Most of the guys are married and their wives work part-time or stay at home with the kids. The guys are all buddies with one another but I can only get "so close" to them before it would be improper, you know? So that in itself is isolating. Most of the wives are really cool and I love to hang out with them when we have company social functions. I want to make sure they don't think I'm a "threat".
    I think you are on the right track here. You don't need to be best buds with your co-workers. A working relationship is great, but getting to close isn't necessary to being able to work as a team. I don't have as much experience with wives, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by ArabDiva View Post
    [*]Being that I am one of the first women at the company, the pressure to succeed is huge. My boss is always putting me front and center with media and clients to show that "we're not just a bunch of guys!" If I were to fold under the pressure, I would feel like I failed myself and the company, because this is the career I've always wanted to have. I actually started on antidepressants three months ago because the anxiety was eating me alive and I wasn't enjoying my life or my work. The meds have helped but I still don't like the idea that I'm dependent on medication just to survive in my job.
    You need to let go of the idea that you *need* to succeed. You are obviously already successful in that you do your job well. The world is NOT on your shoulders. Take a breath - there are a LOT of women that are 'firsts' but did not last forever. There are a men in female dominated fields (such as nursing) that feel the same way.

    A better correlation may be the fact that as a reservist, the active duty tends to push me out of the way to just 'get the job done', when I need the practice and training. On certain things, I own my lack of skills - like driving some big equipment. My strengths are more organization and computer stuff so when it comes to that, I push people out of the way and insist. Then the active duty realizes I can be a productive member of the team.

    So, what I'm trying to say is set the world down off your shoulders, accept your weaknesses, insist on your strengths and if someone makes a comment that a weakness is 'because you are a woman', you need to let it go. I know, easier said than done, but work on it.

    Anyway, that's my advice from my experience, so take it for what it's worth.



  4. #4
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    I've spent my entire working life dealing with the issues the OP currently has to manage. It just comes with the job. Suck it up and recognize it for what it is and then decide you don't care and won't worry about it. Just do your job and learn to play at it a bit like the guys do and if they think you're being a bit**, just blow it off. Play the game. Ignore the stupid wives and the harassment--as long as it's not physical. If it's physical, smack them or turn it on them in a way that scares the crap out of them...then use it for black mail in the future. Not to get favors or get ahead, just to have the sword of damocles hanging over their head if they decide to try and grope you ever again. If it's only verbal, ask them if their wives would like to hear them saying that to you because you'd be more than happy to share that information with them the next time they stop by the office. Or, just tell them it's unprofessional and you don't want to hear it. If you work in a male dominated field, you just have to stand up for yourself and not be sensitive. Being sensitive is like throwing a lamb in front of wolves or lions. Just build up a tough skin.

    Play hardball and don't expect the environment to ever be fair and above board. It just won't until a LOT more women enter the field. Then you have more leverage. Until then, you're one your own and you have to manage things on your own. It's just how it works. Lawsuits, etc., are saved for the truly disgusting guys and those who try to truly intimidate you into doing things that are not work related. The rest, just try to become one of the guys or be the office bit** and let them know you won't take any of their guff, but you're worth keeping around because you can do their job better than they can.
    "Relinquish your whip!!"



  5. #5
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    Dec. 3, 2002
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    Florida
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    Default

    I've also spent my entire working life immersed in men's fields and it is indeed frustrating. You are not going to change the men (boys, pigs, jerks, etc.) but you can change the way you re-act to them.
    Velvet gave great advice. Re-read her first paragraph and memorize it.
    As Dr. Phil advises "We teach people how to treat us."
    Grow some Balls. big balls. Play hardball really hard and the jerks will learn not to tick you off and what the limits are.
    As Gloria Steinem said 40+ years ago (my era)- A female has to be twice as good (and tough) as a male in a male dominated field in order to succeed.
    Maybe it's not worth the mental anguish for you to continue in this position.
    Just maybe you're not cut out to take on the men everyday. If not, move on.



  6. #6
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    Oct. 21, 2003
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    I have to agree with everyone else. I am in a very male dominated field. At my last company (a very large company of nearly 150k employees worldwide) the group that worked on the technology I support was nearly 50 people. Many times over the 9 years I worked there I was the only woman out of 50. I go to conferences and I am typically one of the only women there out of thousands (and most of the women there are in marketing for the conference).

    I have to say, you need to realize your job is a job, and get a life outside work. IMO if you are now taking medication to deal with your job, no matter how good you are at it, this is not the job for you. You need to either learn how to deal with the stress or get out. Finding a mentor is great, but it's not going to fix this.



  7. #7
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    Ajierene nailed it. I love my `bitch` title and remind them often that I kick start my broom.
    "Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter, it gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark"



  8. #8
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    You may find this worthwhile and helpful. I found it enlightening. He devoted a big chunk of his career effort working to assist women to be successful in business, with great support from the local chapter of NOW and others. Unfortunately there is no written version and it isn't available on CD that I know of.

    http://booksontape.net/product.asp?P...%27ERTCC83H%27
    If I knew what I were doing, why would I take lessons?

    "Things should be as simple as possible,
    but no simpler." - Einstein



  9. #9
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    Nov. 1, 2011
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    Own it.

    Play the game.

    As much as I hate to say it the "old boys club" still exists. You aren't going to change it.

    Demand respect and demand to be heard. No one is going to give it to you.

    In my experience, once you have earned their respect men as pretty easy to deal with. Guys bond in different ways then women. I would find it promising you are included in the back and forth... dish it out and own it!

    The characteristics that move women up the ranks are the same that move men up the ranks. Unfortunately too many women don't feel comfortable going against the gender norms. Confidence, a spine, and self-respect will go a long way. The one thing I learned very quick is don't get emotional... don't get offended....entrench yourself as a key team member, not an after thought.



  10. #10
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    I've always (except for my last job) worked almost exclusively with men. I never thought about a me vs them situation. However, I've always been able to get along better with men than women. I'm very upfront and direct. Some people like it, some don't. And I don't take crap from anyone.

    So, if they think you're a bitch, great, but be a friendly, fair bitch.

    Bitch...not just a word, a lifestyle.
    "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." ~Immanuel Kant

    Member of Kathy S. has me on ignore club.



  11. #11
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    Nov. 13, 2008
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    I'm going against the grain here, but have to caution against becoming "the bitch". Guys, in general, do not bring emotion into play in their work, even if they make cocky statements and are competitive. You have to have resolve, but not bring any shrillness into your position when you are interacting with the guys. You have to figure out how to be assertive without an emotional edge.

    I've seen a couple of women go "the bitch" route up close, and in the end they were hung out to dry. I understand their approach; they are older and had it even worse than most women today, and they had to have extremely thick skins to survive and succeed. But after 30 years of that, they no longer had perspective on how they were perceived by others. Brute force of bitchiness is not helpful when a situation is nuanced and calls for negotiation rather than dominance.

    In some ways, women have a certain position of power with men if they can be charming and make their point with a smile on their face but an airtight argument and confidence in their tone. Charm can open a door, and knowing your stuff and conveying confidence can put you in a position to succeed after you've walked through that door. Guys, especially high-achieving ones, frequently see business/industry as a game and they have made the rules, but they also like to bend them when it suits. You have to take that perspective and not let it eat you up, if you want to stay in it. Otherwise, it's not worth it.
    Fear is the rocket sauce.
    Jack Black



  12. #12
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    Keep in mind that most sexual harrassment is not about sex at all, but about power. If you remember that, you'll be able to react appropriately (i.e. not at all). The guy is trying to intimidate and humiliate you by making you uncomfortable because he has NO better tool to use. No need to feel embarrassed because some jerk is making nasty innuendos at work, he's the weak and insecure one, he's just admitted it by behaving the way he has. Depending on the situation, I'll make like I'm too clueless to get their innuendos or I'll laugh in their face.



  13. #13
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    Sep. 16, 2010
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    Thanks for all of the feedback, I really appreciate it. This thread will be a good thing for me to refer to in the future when I am feeling uncertain.

    Adamantine, thanks for that link. I will buy those tapes.

    If anybody else has read good books or other resources on this topic, please do share the titles!

    Quote Originally Posted by Perfect Pony View Post
    I have to say, you need to realize your job is a job, and get a life outside work. IMO if you are now taking medication to deal with your job, no matter how good you are at it, this is not the job for you. You need to either learn how to deal with the stress or get out. Finding a mentor is great, but it's not going to fix this.
    Perfect Pony, I think this was really harsh of you to say! A life outside of work? I'm pretty sure I have a farm, ride every day, and also do a lot of volunteer work. Actually part of my problem at work is that sometimes I feel GUILTY for having my own life because a lot of the guys are more passionate about their work and put in more nights and weekends than I do. They are very one-track-minded.

    I know that finding a mentor won't fix me, I need to fix the way I think about my work, but I think having some advice from somebody who's BTDT would be extremely helpful. I know I need to figure out how to deal. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm new at this. Maybe you're an old pro at dealing with the guys, but I'm just starting out in my career, so cut me some slack. Most of the girls I grew up with, went to college with, have become "Stay at home moms" or work part time or are on the mommy track. I really care about my career and want to succeed in it and a lot of the women I know treat me like less of a woman for it. So I have literally nobody in my life who understands where I'm coming from right now.

    Anyway, thanks for your input, I appreciate it.



  14. #14
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    Apr. 17, 2002
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    Read this book:

    Crucial Conversations. Better yet, take the 2 day course, even if you have to pay for it. You don't need to be a bitch, scare anyone, or build a fortress around your body. You do need to learn the skills needed to raise the topic, discuss it, ask for input, and make a path forward. All business, no sex, no one up manship- just no nonsense with a smile.

    You know, you might also dig into the biographies of women you admire- How did X do it? or Y? read up on them, in their own words if that exists, or in the words of those around them. There is so much to learn from a diverse range of women.

    Steel magnolias and all that

    Very best wishes to your continued success



  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArabDiva View Post
    Perfect Pony, I think this was really harsh of you to say! A life outside of work? I'm pretty sure I have a farm, ride every day, and also do a lot of volunteer work. Actually part of my problem at work is that sometimes I feel GUILTY for having my own life because a lot of the guys are more passionate about their work and put in more nights and weekends than I do. They are very one-track-minded.
    Sorry if it came out that way, your post just came across like you were really obsessed with your work to the point where you are letting it take over your life, that's what I meant.

    Maybe you need to really think about your priorities and what you really want. The sad truth is, if you want to be really successful in your career to the point of making very large amounts of money and rising to the very top of your field, well then it WILL become your life and you will have to just figure out how to cope. But if it's effecting you to the point where you physically and emotionally cannot handle it and are turning to medication to cope at this stage of the game, maybe your internal priorities are different than you thought.



  16. #16
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    Or don't make it about gender. I definitely work in a male-dominated field, and my gender doesn't come up unless I bring it up in casual conversation. If someone tries to make it about gender, ask them if they meant to say that out loud? Sexual harassment, well, if you want to work in the field, learn to tell the pervs to stick it. Tell him he is being inappropriate and you would appreciate it if he never said anything remotely like that again. Instead of going to your boss...
    Aisha, my heart from 03/06/1986 to 08/22/2008.

    COTH's official mini-donk enabler.
    Odie, aka the Evil Burrito, is on Facebook.



  17. #17
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    I think you might have misunderstood my bitch comment. I stand up for myself, which some might call bitchy. If I don't particularly care for someone, they usually don't have a clue, but there are very few people I truly don't like...I can count them on one hand.

    Also, I don't really care what other people think about me. A really thick skin helps when you're the only women in an office full of men.
    "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." ~Immanuel Kant

    Member of Kathy S. has me on ignore club.



  18. #18
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    Having worked in a couple of male dominated jobs I can appreciate to a small extent what the OP is experiencing. May I recommend an excellent book that might help you and others navigate your way through this communication minefield.

    It's an older book but I've found it enormously useful working on a political campaign staff and at a defense company run by former Delta Force commanders.

    Male and female speech patterns are so different we might as well be speaking a foreign language to each other.

    Debrrah Tannen's book "You Just Don't Understand Me: Men and Women in Conversation".

    Here is the link on Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/You-Just-Dont-.../dp/0060959622

    Best of luck to you.



  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by LauraKY View Post
    I think you might have misunderstood my bitch comment. I stand up for myself, which some might call bitchy. If I don't particularly care for someone, they usually don't have a clue, but there are very few people I truly don't like...I can count them on one hand.

    Also, I don't really care what other people think about me. A really thick skin helps when you're the only women in an office full of men.
    Well, I didn't misunderstand it and am right there with ya.



  20. #20
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    MediaMD's recommendation is a great book: we are different in many ways. One gender's pat on the back is another's hey baby.

    LauraKY, I wasn't commenting on your level of bitch, FWIW.



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