We live in a time when, although in small numbers, women are breaking through glass (and all kinds of other) ceilings to establish a stronghold in even male-dominated industries. But, this doesn’t deny the fact that our workplaces are largely filled with men. According to Grant Thornton’s International Business Report 2015, India ranks a dismal third last in the world, with only 15 percent of senior business leadership roles being occupied by women. Another 2015 study by Deloitte, titled Women In The Boardroom: A Global Perspective, found that women in India held only 7.7 percent of board seats and 2.7 per cent of board chairs. Recently, there was also the debate on how even our offices are designed to suit the men, rather than the women, who occupy them, right from the air-conditioning to the leisure areas.
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It makes no sense to whine and complain. How do women who work in such situations make sure that their work is noticed and that they are not left behind because of not being part of the beer parties and boys clubs? Here are some practical tips to help you find your way through a workplace where the gender ratio isn’t in your favour:
There are two ways in which you can be more assertive at work – by learning to say no and by learning to speak up. There is nothing wrong in being helpful and getting your co-workers coffee or running a few errands like ordering birthday cakes or collecting money for parties once in a while. But make sure to put your foot down when you see it turning into a habit. Also, it is common for men to go up to their bosses and express interest in certain projects or assignments. Take a cue from them and do not shy away from being vocal about what you want to accomplish in the workplace. Remember that being assertive only reflects on your confidence levels. What’s more, a recent study suggests that women who engage in assertive behaviour at work were giving their leadership credentials a boost.
Pantene came out with a striking campaign called Sorry, Not Sorry, which showed women apologising unnecessarily at work and at home. Be it asking for something that is meant to be done or unintentionally interrupting someone while speaking or even wanting to speak to someone, women pepper too many sorries in their conversations. The ad raises the significant, and often unasked, question of why women are always apologising. A study, in an attempt to answer this question, says that women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behaviour. It might be their way of being polite or not being too pushy, but what it does is put you at a disadvantage in a conversation as soon as you utter the word. Apologising too much, and even unnecessarily, only shows that you are either a people pleaser or that you are not confident enough, neither of which are traits that will work in your favour.
You may have noticed that your male co-workers go out with your boss for after-work drinks. This is one of the main ways they hit it off with the higher-ups. Dorie Clark, Duke University professor and author of the book Stand Out Networking, suggests that women should network on their own terms. If you are not interested in the many beer parties and the golf outings that your male co-workers initiate to network with the bosses, Dorie says, “create your own event later and invite your colleagues to something where you can shine and will have fun,” rather than fretting over how you weren’t invited for the men’s activity. Be sure to invite the people who matter. Be active on social media and join professional organisations that can provide you with many networking options. Also, take care that you do not get overly invested in the professional relationships you make. Be smart while making connections and learn how to make them last without having to invest too much time on them.
Whether you work in a male-dominated environment or not, it is important to have a mentor or sponsor to help you develop important skills and to guide you to climb up the ladder with more ease. It is well-known that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was mentored by economist Larry Summers and then Eric Schmidt at Google. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, she talks about how Summers offered to be her thesis adviser in college, took her with him to the World Bank and offered her a job at Treasury. Sandberg also has expressed her gratitude to Eric Schmidt many a time and has credited him for having given her the best career advice ever. While she was worried about whether she would have enough work to do while being offered the job of a ‘business unit general manager’, Schmidt famously told her, “Don’t be an idiot. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” This demonstrates how a mentor at the workplace can help you with their vast experience and help you focus your efforts in the right direction.
So stop being sorry for no reason, exude confidence and command the respect you deserve. This is the formula that will help you stand out, especially in a male-dominated workplace. With the right attitude and the right kind of resources at hand, you can move ahead smoothly and demand attention at work.