Working Together: Question of the Week

Working Together: Question of the Week

Cathy Feldman

How Do I Get Acceptance in an All-Male Office?

"I am a female in an all-male technical department. I have had a tough time getting up-to-speed, partly because I didn't have the technical expertise they had when I was hired, and partly due to office politics (several of them wanted the vacant bosses' position; but they didn't get it). None of the guys want to help me ("why should they if they aren't qualified for the bosses' job"), and are all too eager to point out my mistakes. They rarely talk to me. They interrupt me when I'm talking. They either ignore me or try to discredit my suggestions. They've even told co-workers to ignore my instructions and effectively taken me out of the loop on things. When we travel, they walk ahead of me in airports, travel in a separate car (if possible), ignore me at dinners, etc. They talk to each other about weekend events, but when I try to join in or initiate, they give me the cold shoulder. I feel like I'm back in kindergarten. I really like this job. How can I turn their opinions around?" 1


As much as I would love to tell you the problems you are having are the guys' fault, I can't. You came into a tough situation where there was obviously a very competitive environment (several of them competing for the top job) without the technical expertise they expected you to have. The only way to come out ahead in a situation like that is to be as good or better at what you do as they are. In this case, your skills are your bargaining chips.

It's often hard for women to understand but most men don't believe in helping each other out unless there is something in it for them. It's not that they are evil; that's just how most of them were raised and conditioned. Women tend to be much more cooperative and believe in consensus. Men actually prefer the competition. Yes, it does seem very childish and immature, but it's their railroad. Until we can take it over, we have to learn how to ride on it.

So if you really like this job, you are going to have to earn their respect. You are going to have to do your homework, learn the skills (probably on your own or with the help of someone outside your department), and be better at what you do than they are. You can do that if you set your mind to it. But it will require a lot of work. When you really know your stuff and can point out better ways of accomplishing things, their attitudes will start to change. It won't happen overnight and it won't be easy. You will have to put up with a lot of being talked over in meetings, ignored, etc. But eventually the respect will grow and the barriers will start coming down. Once they respect you for your skills (not for who you are), you'll find that their attitudes will change completely. As I said, you have to earn that.

A word of caution: don't complain to your boss or manager about how you are being treated. Guys hate that. If you can find a mentor in the company or on the outside to advise you, great. But telling the boss your co-workers are being mean to you will not get you any points on either side of the desk.

The upside of all the improving of your skills and knowledge is that you might discover more opportunities, possibly in a more friendly environment. So it is a win-win for you. I hope this helps. And good luck.
--Cathy Feldman

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