4 ways to respond to the difficult demands of a mostly male workplace

Working in a male-dominated workplace may feel like a recipe for disaster: difficulties in diffusing conflict and maintaining good personal relationships, and additional risks of illness and disability. You may also find yourself lacking in confidence or left feeling undervalued or isolated.

Responding to these pressures, some women try to stay “me” at work by trying to use their feminine side to smooth the way. They may resist working in a “woman’s space” or engaging with men.

The answer is not to ignore or subvert your feminine qualities, or to conform to male norms. There are, however, some aspects of feminine influence at work that are universal and valuable to all: emotional intelligence, a sense of empowerment, and cultivating authentic, connected and supportive relationships.

If you are working in a company with a much more male-dominated work culture, the good news is that you have some choices on how to respond, and some built-in strategies you can use. Consider the following:

Own your “macho” side. This might sound counterintuitive, but the feminine side of you is more compatible with masculine traits. Men like for women to be responsible, nurturing, empathetic, and good listeners. These are qualities worth developing. For example, one of my clients developed an office recipe where she would tell everyone how to create a dish, then she would suggest ways they could improve it. She took on a leadership role in the office, encouraged collaboration, and helped people feel important.

Ask people to be “more” sensitive to your needs and concerns. Rather than retreating into a comfortable, focused place, approach people where their reality and their feelings intersect. Ask yourself, “What would I say or do if I were at the table” (or patient room or on the team plane). For instance, once an executive decided to do a new social media campaign, he asked everyone whether they would contribute.

Look for opportunities to stimulate self-reflection. Recognize that you are likely doing the same tasks, only differently – for example, to handle your expenses via online banking rather than paper receipts. Now you know that you are not being given the space to express your needs and to reflect on what is important to you at work. Take a couple of days to review your experiences.

Identify ways to be more collaborative. This requires working with those who will ultimately make the decisions, even if your input does not earn you any prestige or authority. In fact, when you do this consciously, you end up learning as much as you end up learning from them.

Explore opportunities to take risks. Many people use fear to motivate themselves. The late Marianne Williamson wrote, “We don’t have fear – we have fear to force us to take responsibility.” She has long advocated a different way: “Fear and self-deception are the lie we live by, but thinking for ourselves and facing our fears for what they are – and for the things we want – are really what help us to live the lives we want.”

Put your work on hold. You may not realize that this is a critical part of finding your feminine side. It helps you better manage your emotions and vent your feelings. Find a time a day to do something that gives you pleasure – a work conference call with a co-worker who is a good listener, for example, or a spa visit – and also keep in mind that it is okay to take a short vacation during those times when you need a break.

Ensure that your relationships are healthy. Being a good listener, a good listener on the team, and a good listener in your personal life means having good social support. You may need to talk to your supervisor about how to get people to trust you and listen to your suggestions, so that you can also gain trust and be a reliable sounding board. Take care of your health and well-being. If you are staying at home with your sick family member, or perhaps are feeling tired at the end of the day, instead of heading straight to the coffee machine, join a support group that helps you feel good about yourself. Schedule some exercise breaks and a mental break – stop at your favourite lunch spot for a couple of hours with a friend. Helping yourself and others in this way helps you maintain your “me” side at work.

Do not use this situation as an excuse to embrace feminine traditional roles. You can and should use your feminine strengths at work to contribute to the company and its success.

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