Act like a woman, but think like a man to succeed in a male-dominated work environment. Look no further than the presidential election to find that our culture evaluates women by different standards. For example, no one said that the male candidate needed to “smile” more.
Politics is a male-dominated work environment. As recently as September 2017 Nancy Pelosi reminded the men in a White House dinner meeting that women need to be heard as the men talked over her. She asked “Do the women get to talk around here?” Many women experience being invisible at work.
A study released by the organization Lean In found that white men occupy 67% of C Suite positions. This means women and men of color occupy only 33% of the executive levels in American companies. A study of executive positions in the public sector published by Lynne Rienner Publishers defined five characteristics of an executive position.
- These roles “uniquely feature solitude” based on their individual actions and accountability.
- A female leader is subject to greater external scrutiny because of her status as a female and the “great man” model of leadership. This leadership model is at odds with expectations.
- Leaders often manage a large organizational structure which is hierarchical and may also act as a liaison with external stakeholders.
- As a leader the executive must be both proactive and reactive. They both set the direction for the organization and react to external forces and factors.
- In their specific role, each leader must understand a broad set of data points, be able to understand the effect of their actions on the future, and direct their organization.
What does it mean to think like a man?
These characteristics tell us what qualities successful executives or leaders possess. Thinking like a man means being decisive, assertive, independent, willing to take a stand, and willing to take risks. Feminine attributes include being gentle, cheerful, soft-spoken, eager to soothe hurt feelings, and yielding. These attributes come from an instrument that plots individuals on a scale from masculine to feminine and in the center is androgynous.
Sandra Bee designed the Bem Sex Role Inventory to assess how people perceive themselves relative to culturally defined masculine and feminine attributes. According to Forbes the number one attribute to success is being willing to take risks, which is considered a masculine trait in our culture.
A key dilemma for women in a male-dominated work environment is how to stay out of the traps set by these attributes. For example, some underlying expectations seem to dictate that women act as the social director or caretaker (planning the social events or always loading the dishwasher). As a result, use these five strategies to think like a man at work.
Five Strategies for Thinking like a Man
- Be strategic with your business connections and find mentors and advisers within your field that are not in your workplace. Many successful people have mentors who can help guide them on their path. If you can find a male mentor, good for you.
- Speak up in meetings and contribute. At first it may feel awkward because women may not value their own ideas. When constantly interrupted, ask the interrupter politely to let you finish.
- Take credit for your ideas and don’t qualify your contributions with language. Statements such as “maybe you’ve tried this before” or “I’m not sure this will work”. Research your idea and prepare a solution focused approach.
- Be assertive and don’t let others put you down. You can respond as Nancy Pelosi did in a recent meeting at the White House when all of the men continued to interrupt her. Use light humor, but be careful not to be seen as a clown or silly.
- Let go of little slights. Gender bias can be unintentional. Use the interaction as an opportunity to educate your coworker in a non-confrontational manner.
Women getting ahead in the workplace dictates our need to support each other, because women have a long way to go to find parity. First be introspective about your workplace dilemmas. Ask initially what you need to do differently for a different outcome. It helps to recognize your own participation in the system. Then proactively work to make changes where you can.
As a coach and consultant with over 40 years in the corporate world, Pat Magerkurth can help you solve some of these complex workplace dilemmas. Contact her at Pat@inviaconsulting.com for a free initial session to discuss your specific situation and goals.