High Heels in High Tech part 2: Becoming One of the Boys.

You move into your new office space (which you share with a guy named George) and start to unpack and set up your computer.  Your boss seems nice, your office has a window, and the lunchroom fridge is stocked with soda. You’ve made a mental note to request diet coke.

George is friendly, but a little awkward as he clears off his collection of army men that seem to have been launching a full scale attack on the corner of your desk. He offers to show you around and introduce you. Somewhere between introducing you to Mark, Brian, Greg and Dan, he leans over and says “I’ve always wanted to walk around the office with a girl on my arm.” It is right then that you realize you are in strange territory. This isn’t an ordinary office- this is a tech office and until you started – this was a place for jeans ,“that’s what she said” jokes and hot wings lunches.  While you are introduced to Dan, you can tell people are looking at you, and it isn’t because you are the new person- its because you are the first woman on their team and everyone wants to know what that means.

You are the new dynamic. Your coworkers might be a little worried that you will radically change the office culture. They might be uncomfortable making jokes like they used to. You might be uncomfortable wearing feminine (office appropriate) clothes. Nylons, necklaces, and necklines are all new.

They have lots of questions, but so do you. How do you act around these men? Are you supposed to fit in and be one of the boys or are we supposed to step up the professionalism? What do you wear? Is a knee length skirt too short when no one else is wearing them? There may be no HR policy about open toed shoes. When the guys wear shorts in the summer – is it ok if we do? How sensitive should people be about professionalism? Will there be a women’s bathroom or will you all share? Most of that depends on the culture of the office- but a lot of it you will define yourself as you find your spot on the team.

I read an article about women in the work place and how if there are more men, women will actually subconsciously speak in a lower voice and stand with their arms crossed more often in an attempt to fit in with the men.  We don’t need to be one of the boys to be one of the team. It is important to remember that even though we are all coworkers- women and men are still wired a little differently- but that’s a good thing! If we think differently, work together differently or test differently, that just makes us a valuable asset to team.

At some point, you end up managing men. Sometimes much older men. When I was 23, I found myself – as the youngest team member and the only women in the group– in charge of men old enough to be my father. Age is a factor, but so is gender. There were a few rocky releases for us, but eventually, we were all up together on late nights testing, we learned to work together and over look the generational and gender gaps to make a great team.

It feels strange to talk about it, but gender is defiantly a factor- at my company, a new female engineer came on to lead one of our development teams and said one of the biggest challenges was coming on and taking over a man’s role on a team with all men. She had to work to find her place- both as a new employee, and the only female engineering lead.  It can be uncomfortable for you and the people you have been assigned to manage. There are different boundaries, It can be intimidating to stand up and take charge in that situation, but as a leader, it is important address the issues and face them so that your team does not suffer.

Once you find a comfortable fit though- the joys of being one of a few is apparent. I have found the offices to often be more laid back and less cliquish. After few late releases together, (or after you win your first chicken wing eating contest) you are suddenly part of a team that can use its differences- in age, gender or background- to its advantage and work together.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Devon,

    I am glad to have read this post. I am recently told to manage a small team of boys who are just tough to manage. I was kind of getting on my nerves, but remembered that I need to lead by example and not by force or power. I am starting slowly, getting to motivate them to do good work and at the same time be a competent contributor to the team.

    Thank You,
    Parimala Shankaraiah

    Reply

  2. Hi Devon,

    This is an interesting and helpful article. As someone who has worked most of her life in male-dominated fields, I’d like to make some comments about dress code. If the men in the office wear business suits, then you do, too. If they wear dress trousers and business shirts, but without a tie, then a business-type skirt and top would be appropriate. If they wear jeans, then jeans are appropriate for you, too, or a more casual skirt or dress. If the men wear shorts in summer, then you can, too, but note that they will wear long, baggy shorts, so short, tight shorts are not appropriate for you. And if you are the first and only woman in the office, whether you are a manager or simply a member of the team, you will be watched, so middle-of-the-road, or more conservative versions of what the men are wearing would be a good idea.

    Reply

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