The Only Woman in the Room
In the U.S., majority rule has common acceptance, yet in our workforce, it remains an elusive goal in some industries. Women comprise 57 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Despite majority status, women still confront issues ranging from pay inequity to stereotypes related to leadership roles.
I began my professional career directing communications for collegiate athletic teams, some all-male, at several elite institutions. It was my introduction to being the only woman in the room (or bus). For the past decade, the construction business has been my milieu, an industry that remains male-dominated. I've been fortunate. An exceptional mentor and the opportunity to observe and change some of the ways that I do business have contributed to my steady rise, even though I’m often still the only woman in the room.
For that reason, I suspect, women have often asked me for counsel, and the advice I’ve dispensed has hopefully helped them smooth the wrinkles in their jobs.
My checklist of how women should conduct themselves in the business world is, unsurprisingly, influenced by my circumstances. Everyone needs a moment to re-evaluate their career, and if you’re a woman, you must ask whether you’re fulfilling a stereotypical role. If the answer is yes, the best part about my suggestions is that almost anyone can implement them because they rest upon changing your attitude and a slight shift in conduct.
Be prepared to join in
Golf. Fishing. Talking sports. You don't have to be an expert, but be willing to try and learn. I enjoy baking and my craft time, but joining in and being able to talk about the topics listed above opens the door and helps get you a seat at the table. Another reason is that those can be prime business opportunities. For example, I always thought the idea of business getting done on the golf course was a fallacy and an excuse to escape the office ... until I'd been in hours-long meetings when we would get nowhere. Then, out on the golf course, there would be resolution or at least compromises made to get to the end game by the second tee box.
Be direct and get to the point
I see a lot of written communications. Something like, "I was wondering if you might be able to look at this and let me know your thoughts when you get a chance," drives me insane. It is so passive. I say this so many times to the younger women on our staff: Be direct. Instead, say or write: "Please review the attached and provide your feedback by noon on Wednesday." You're far more likely to get a response. Or, some women provide a lot of backstory and explanation instead of just getting to the point. We communicate differently from men but if you adjust a bit, you'll be less frustrated.
Have a good handshake
And, be prepared to be on the receiving end of a lot of bad ones. It's a bit comical the number of men who seem to be afraid to shake hands – we get many a fingertip handshake, a tentative hand or complete avoidance.
Don't hide in group meetings
Sit in the middle of the group and not at the far ends of the table. You're within eyesight and aren't easy to forget.
You can't be easily offended
It could be a joke, raised voices in meetings; it might be curse words. But also, know where that invisible line is and speak out when someone crosses it.
You are not the office PTA mom
You do not need to organize fun things, bring in snacks, decorate the office or be the cheerleader. That doesn't mean you don't participate or encourage your co-workers, but keep your activity at a professional level.
It is not always your responsibility to clear others’ plates, clean up after lunches or wipe the tables. You work with grownups who are more than capable of doing these things on their own just as well as you can. If you ignore this, two things happen: People will come to expect that you'll take care of it, and, after a while, you may become resentful.
Social media pitfalls
LinkedIn is for work and professional networking. Otherwise, unless you are really good friends with someone you work with, don't "friend" colleagues or co-workers on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or other social media platforms. Do I need to suggest that you don’t post photos that are embarrassing? If you are online “friends” with co-workers, keep office chat and grumblings off of social media as well.
Your think tank
Surround yourself with good people, and this doesn't just mean when you're hiring staff. Align yourself with people who respect and support your endeavors. I have my go-to people. I can discuss work issues more in-depth with them, turn to them for advice and socialize with them and their spouses or significant others. For me, these are the same types of people I hang out with when I travel as well. There's typically at least one of my go-to people when I'm at a conference. And that may be the only time I see them each year. But I know they have my back, whether it be to discuss work, having someone to sit with at lunch or ensure that I'm safe if we go out (as a woman, I think this is especially important).
Don't take things personally
A lot of the time, it's just business. You might not like each other in negotiations, but you can still have dinner together when you're done.
Don't be afraid to ask questions
There are few better ways to draw positive attention if your questions are thoughtful, relevant and even penetrating sometimes. People will notice because good questions demonstrate that you understand the issues.
Be willing to work hard
It might be the oldest maxim on how to get ahead. But even in the digital age, most bosses notice who works hard and goes that extra mile and those who don’t.