It can be intimidating to be a woman entering an all-male workplace. You expect the reception to be professional on the surface but don’t trust that it is an accurate representation of the real environment. You don’t know what your male colleagues really think about working with a woman in their career field and what they are saying about you behind your back.
I’ve navigated this situation many times. I was successful because I didn’t look at the situation from my perspective but through the perspective of my male colleagues.
I know. Many women don’t like me to say that. They believe men simply need to get over their biases and just accept that a woman can do the same job as them.
However, that response fails to recognize that most of the men are in a situation they are absolutely clueless on how to handle. They need help.
That is why I go into this situation seeing myself as the bigger, more secure and confident person who can help my male colleagues learn and grow. I see beyond myself and my personal interests to recognize that my male colleagues also have trepidations. Their primary concern is that they don’t know what my presence means to them personally. Therefore, they don’t trust me.
Most women don’t realize the importance of TRUST in the male-dominated workplace.
I learned early the important role Trust plays in men’s working relationships. Men want to know that the presence of another person will not negatively impact them. That is how they define Trust.
As a woman, I only had to look to the stereotypes to figure out many of male colleagues’ “Trust issues” with a female colleague. They needed to Trust that I would:
- Do my job thoroughly, completely and accurately so none of my work was dumped on them.
- Be competent and independent in my job so no one had to bail me out.
- Not do anything that got them yelled at, disciplined, blamed or fired.
- Be physically capable of doing my job so I wasn’t a safety risk.
- Not be a man-hater who was out to get them.
- Be strong and dependable; not overly sensitive or emotional.
- Not be overly sensitive or insecure about being a woman.
- Not get preferential treatment or breaks for being a woman.
- Not be afraid to get my hands dirty, put the time in or do the hard work.
- Handle my issues myself without running to management or HR.
- Not act like their ex-wife or ex-girlfriend.
- Have a sense of humor and be able to take a joke or prank.
My male colleagues also had some positive expectations of women that I used to build Trust. They learned these from working with women in traditional support roles and the last two, while well-known were never openly discussed.
- They believed women were much better at communication and could help in writing assignments or expressing complete ideas in meetings and presentations.
- They understood women had a smartness, wisdom or intelligence that they needed to listen to because it could keep them out of trouble.
- Women had a different kind of strength and when they really needed to be bailed out, they depended upon women to rescue them.
As women, we need to understand that all of the items I listed are starting points for building Trust. With this understanding we can demonstrate that our presence doesn’t create a burden to the workplace but an enhancement.
From my experience I know that the male-dominated workplace is very flawed. And men, no matter how hard they try, can’t fix it on their own because the critical flaw is that their workplace is too male. Therefore, when women come into a male-dominated workplace, we are a natural enhancement if we assert ourselves properly.
However, many women immediately stumble and create unnecessary challenges for themselves because they are too focused on being a woman, biases, discrimination and what men need to do to make them feel accepted. They create obstacles to building Trust which damages their relationships and careers.
Any woman entering a male environment must recognize that Trust is the foundation on which working relationships are built. After there is Trust, then Respect can be earned. Trust and Respect then work in conjunction with each other to build alliances with your male colleagues.
Those alliances are what you use to advance your career.
Empowered Women Build Trust
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