Dear Mandy,

I work in an environment that’s an old boy’s club:  it’s 80% men and I often feel like the odd one out.  It is so frustrating, I feel myself being sidelined and like I’m invisible sometimes.  How do I build credibility as a minority female?  

Sincerely,

Olivia L.

Dear Olivia,

Your question is a good one because it effects all of us.  It’s universal.  For you, it’s about being a woman in a man’s world.  For all of us, it could be anything:  where we come from, the way we look, the way we talk, the kind of sex we like. What we are really talking about is being different.  Being unusual.  The “other.”  The friction and discomfort of knowing I’m nothing like them, and will suffer some small injustice because of it.  Maybe I’m not invited to the same parties, to the same study groups, to the private meetings, to the boys-only Crossfit sessions after work.  Maybe over time, the gap becomes larger and larger until one day you realize you’re still a Senior Manager and all of the chummy dummy boys have made Director and VP and you want to punch a hole in the wall.

Let’s unpack this.

It’s hard for me to give you advice on how to “fit in” because the feminist in me says you shouldn’t have to (see:  The Feminine Mystique).  That you should just be you, and if you’re constantly feeling tension and friction at being “the other” then you should leave and find your own place in the world.  Of course, the counterargument is that we’re letting The Man win if we do that.  Shouldn’t we break the glass ceiling?  Aren’t we responsible for “teaching” the powerful white man how to be more accepting, and to integrate ourselves into leadership positions to be the change that we want to see?

This is the real conversation, I think, that happens in our minds and hearts.  You so badly want to succeed within the system, but you feel edged out of the system.  Am I betraying myself, you think, if I slip on my “man up” persona and showcase displays of bravado?  What’s the plan here?  Do I just start talk over people in meetings, wearing power suits, and channeling my masculine spirit animal to succeed?  What will it take, goddammit, to get to the top?

I’ve seen it so many times:  the job is simply not a “culture fit” (translation:  you hate the place!).  You push and push only to realize that oh god, it isn’t going to work, and you frantically text your best friends things like “I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT.”  So you have to ask yourself:  what’s the long game?  Do you want to climb the ladder at this company?  Do you like the culture?  Do they inspire you (and vice versa) to succeed? And lastly, plain and simple: do you like the people there?  If not, well you know the answer…it’s probably time to start looking elsewhere.

To address your point about credibility, keep doing what you’ve always probably done:  work harder than anyone else – irrespective of gender.  Be invested.  Do your homework.  Do your research.  Be the subject matter expert.  Make friends with people (male, female, trans, whoever!) that you genuinely find yourself being drawn to.  Understand that gender is a spectrum, and that being masculine does not equal strong, and feminine does not equal weak.  Sometimes the quietest, most vulnerable warmth is what ends up shining through.

Here’s the kicker though:  at the end of the day, you can only be YOURSELF.  You have to be you, without any masks or pretenses or make believe.  So if you happen to love bro culture, and are obsessed with sports, and have a fairly militant / traditionally masculine personality, then more power to you (I’m generalizing here, of course, some of my BFF girlfriends have militant personalities).  But if not?  Run the other direction, as fast as you can.  Be you.  Why?  Because that’s the ONLY long-term plan that works without unraveling and leaving you exhausted.  You simply cannot pretend to be someone else.  It’s UNSUSTAINABLE and EXHAUSTING and sooner or later the wheels will come off the bus.

Keep the wheels on the bus, and keep moving forward.

Love,

Mandy