So first off, that title is kind of a lie. We have a lovely Admin Assistant named Nicole who comes in for about 6 hours a week and helps us with anything that we need. She is most definitely a woman and I apologize for implying otherwise!
Aside from her, for the other 34+ hours a week that I sit in my office, I’m the only one that ever rocks a skirt. It is a unique set up, 7 or so men and I, but I enjoy my job and the people I work alongside. I also basically have my own personal bathroom, which is never a bad thing! I do understand why my situation could be intimidating for some women though, so I have noted down some thoughts on how to handle being a Mrs. amongst the Mr.’s…
Thought One: Don’t be touchy about stereotypes.
People make assumptions and generalize, but it really doesn’t matter! It’s funny to me that when people call or email Blair E Spence, VP of Operations, they always stick a Mr on the front, but does it offend me? Nope! I just laugh a little to hear them startled when a female voice answers or to see confusion flit across their faces when I show up at a meeting. Being the only female can actually help you become memorable and thus can be an advantage.
Another thing that happens frequently is people assuming that I’m the CEOs secretary. My office is near the front door, and so when a random person walks in I generally get up and greet them if no one else is around. I also offer drinks and grab them if nothing has been offered by the time I get to them. Are they surprised when they hear I’m not a secretary, but one of the senior members of staff? Quite often, yes. Am I going to stop being polite or getting things for clients because I feel it is beneath my job description? Of course not. Be confident in your role, no matter what that is, and don’t let pride get in the way of providing your clients with the best experience possible. You know your capabilities, responsibilities and successes, so it doesn’t really matter if someone mistakenly makes a snap assumption.
Thought Two: Don’t adopt a persona to fit in in with ‘the guys’.
Guess what ladies? You are not a guy! The men at work know you are female and that you might have different interests, work methods and opinions to them. There is no need to play up to a stereotype in a bid to earn their respect or praise. Being yourself goes a lot further.
It seems to me that women working in a male dominated environment often go one of two ways, ‘ball buster’ or ‘mother figure’, and I feel like neither one truly represents me. I have always gotten on well with men, I described myself as a ‘tom boy’ for years, but I don’t feel like I need to act like a man to get their respect or work along side them. I don’t wear power suits, talk about ‘the big game’ (beyond complaining about my husband being sports crazy), or adopt an overtly aggressive tone whenever I want something done. I don’t try and out-man, out-eat or out-swear them and I don’t go the opposite way and coddle them, bake for them or clean up their messes when they are perfectly capable of doing it for themselves.
Unless I feel like it of course, then I do all of these things… but that’s kind of the point.
There is no conscious decision to adopt certain behaviors in order to fit in. I simply interact based on how I feel, my personality and what is appropriate conduct for our office. So on lucky days they might get some treats because I made them the night before, or I might clean up after them because I’m feeling generous (or a client is coming in and I don’t want rubbish lying about). On other days I will speak to them with more force than they are used to hearing from me because the occasion calls for it or because I need to reprimand someone, and I will certainly take advantage of any chance I get to make fun. I might even swear during a joke I tell (sorry Mum), but because that is how I speak normally, not because I’m trying to seem tough or intimidating.
Thought Three: Be yourself!
That’s the moral of this story. Be professional, be confident, be kind, be quick to put your hands up when you make a mistake and be a good leader. Compete with other staff if your environment calls for a competitive spirit and will help your company excel, don’t compete just because you feel you need to prove yourself based on gender. Being assured in your abilities (and going above and beyond in your work) is how you prove yourself, and I think you will gain more respect in the long run.
I love the men I work with; they are respectful of me and my role, as well as being appropriately kind and considerate. They also make fun of me, occasionally play pranks and shoot me with Nerf guns as vigorously as they would shoot anyone else. They are not blind to my gender, but I don’t think it impacts their day much. They like ‘ME’… and I like that.