How to Survive a Male-Dominated Workplace
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith
Like many of you, I entered the work force early. Waitressing, teaching aerobics and police dispatching helped pay the bills in college, and at age twenty one I became a cop. In the early years of my career I was focused on learning the job, staying alive and like many female cops, trying to become “one of the boys.” After 29 years on the police department, I look back now and wish I’d known a little more about navigating a male-dominated work place when I was first starting out.
Physiological Differences: Women don’t just have different “parts,” we have plenty of physiological differences that affect, and often enhance, the way we do our job. We have about 60% of the hand strength of men, our fingers average one knuckle length shorter, and (no surprise here) our hips are wider. We also have a lower center of gravity, better joint and spinal flexibility, and excellent manual dexterity. All of our senses with the exception of frontal vision are superior to that of men; a woman’s best vision is peripheral. We hear better, our senses of touch and smell are more sensitive, and our sense of taste is more acute.
If we train ourselves to truly listen with all of our senses, we will notice small changes in people that will help us read a situation more accurately; it’s what we used to call “women’s intuition.” Being different doesn’t mean being at a disadvantage and being aware of physiology can help women (and their supervisors) make informed decisions about work gear, office equipment, and even a computer keyboard!
Communication Differences: Women like to talk; in fact, communication is essential to our emotional survival; one of the reasons we talk is to bond. Women speak at a rate of about 250 words per minute, compared to the average male rate of 125 words per minute. Men have about 7000 words a day to speak or write, while women have at least 20,000 words a day that we need to communicate to others. We make more eye contact than men, we stop what we are doing to listen to others, and we tend to wait until others are done speaking before we join the conversation. Women are generally comfortable sharing personal information, while men tend to keep things “strictly business” in a group setting.
Understanding these differences will go a long way in working successfully with men, and with other women. Recognize that in a male-dominated situation, such as a meeting, you need to keep your statements short and to the point if you want to be heard. Learn how to “interrupt” or insert yourself into the discussion politely but assertively if you have a point to make and try not to end your sentences with an upward, or questioning, tone. Limit the body of your emails to two short paragraphs and if you have more information to share, put it into an attached document. Keep gossip out of the workplace, and keep personal information to a minimum until you’re out with your friends or on your lunch break.
Conflict Differences: Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and as author Patrick Lencioni outlines in his book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” allowing and properly managing conflict among co-workers is a productive element of any workplace team. However, men and women handle conflict differently, and women need to know how to leverage these differences to their advantage. Control your emotions and don’t keep bringing up the past.
Instead, communicate forward: acknowledge the conflict and then ask “so, how do we move past this.” Don’t engage in personal attacks, keep it professional. Don’t email when you are angry and don’t read emotion or tone into texts, emails and directives. Don’t hold a grudge; once the conflict is over, shake hands, hold your head high, and get back to work. Understand the amazing power of forgiveness and learn to “let it go.”
Whether you’ve been in a male-dominated workplace for a month or a decade, seek out and learn from others who have not only survived, but thrived!