If your workplace is predominately male, going to work each day may feel a little like climbing into a spaceship and blasting off to an alien planet.
Even the language can throw you. In business-speak, men are assertive and women are aggressive. Men are proactive. Women are bitchy. And men are confidently determined while women are ball busters.
More and more women are taking ownership of jobs and careers traditionally owned by men — in effect, blasting off to that alien planet. Currently, women hold 46 percent of all middle management positions in the U.S. workplace. That’s up significantly from 7 percent 20 years ago.
By contrast, only 12 percent of all corporate officers are women. So in most cases it’s still the guys who run the show, call the shots and hold the home-court advantage. They have been around long enough to know their way around what was once their own private planet.
So where do we get directions? We asked women who have “been there and done that” for tips, advice and a war story or two. Here’s what they had to say:
“Women must learn how to go that extra distance to stand out in the competitive career market,” says Karen Salmansohn, the best-selling author of “How to Succeed in Business Without a Penis” (Crown Publishers, 1996, $12). In fact, Salmansohn says, many of a businesswoman’s perceived disadvantages — like innate empathy and maternalistic people skills — can actually serve as career advantages.
The first step is to figure out what unique perspective or skill you — as a smart, savvy woman — bring to the party, and work it.
Bernadette Grey is the editor-in-chief of Working Woman magazine. She began her career in the business and technical area of publishing working with — and for — men, for years. During that time, she says, she honed her communication skills. That’s a real knack when you are dealing with men — who, scientists say, think differently than women.
“I’ve learned to be very direct,” Grey says. “I’ve learned to say exactly what I mean and to mean what I say. I didn’t try to fit in with my colleagues by being one of the guys — by talking sports or making sports analogies. I don’t watch sports, so I’d just sound ridiculous. Instead, I found my place in the group — my niche — and that’s how I fit in,” she says. “I became the facilitator for communication.
I made sure we all understood each other and what we were doing workwise — even if it meant stopping a meeting to make sure everyone was on the same page. And I think they really liked having me around because I brought something different to the work environment.”
Different can be good — for everyone. At Tola Murphy-Baran’s workplace, some of the guys like to toss a football around the office a little. They throw long, low-arc passes down the corridors to each other. It’s a fun, guy-thing they do — call it office male bonding.