Tips for Women Working with Men

I ran a Google search for, “Tips for Women Working with Men,” and the titles that appeared were really frickin’ interesting. It was like reading a secret playbook to a private game:

There were also many useful reads, such as this excellent article on Lean In about gender tips for the workplace. Nonetheless, I did not find a host of solutions for creating effective partnerships across gender lines, especially for women seeking to work well with men.

Reading much of what’s out there requires sifting through a number of ideas about how women can play better in the dominant male workplace culture by being more like men, how men and women are simply different, and why women sometimes struggle in male dominated organizations, such as this favorite Time piece showing that women working with men primarily, experience more stress.

So, what’s a woman to do when she genuinely seeks to partner well with her (mostly male) colleagues, without becoming replicas of them, or compromising her own unique self? I have a few thoughts about women working with men in a healthy way:

  1. Consider partnership as a relationship that matters.

Any partnership at work is worthy of your attention, time, and energy. Great partnerships require trust, which requires authentic connection, which requires vulnerability. Even when it is scary, it is worthwhile to focus on your work partnerships as worthy of genuine interaction—showing your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Do you spend time building a personal relationship with men you work with in which you have trust and can layer on healthy conflict?

  1. Remember both individual and group dynamics.

Men you work with often represent (to you) two identities: (1) an individual (“John”), and (2) the entire identity group of men. It is helpful to remember this. I remember getting triggered when a colleague told me he, “wanted a male voice to lead the session” we were facilitating because it reminded me of a long history of times in my life I had been told that I was not the right person for a role because I am a woman. In this situation, when I was able to consider the individual situation, I could see that his logic made sense and was not reflective of the frequent group gender bias I have experienced. After we had this hard conversation in which I expressed my concerns, I had cultivated a strong ally in my colleague who now knew some of the risks of unconscious bias in partnership and could have my back when I needed it. Do you notice, and when appropriate, name, the challenges you are experiencing related to systemic gender bias as you try to partner with individuals? Doing so will help you move through complex perspectives and history with grace.

  1. Get real with your partnership assets.

Remembering the strengths you bring to partnership can greatly assist in things going better. Are you strong at speaking truth? Are you effective at listening? Do you bring empathy and connection to most conversations? Understanding what you bring allows you to stand centered and clear on who you are as a partner, rather than hustling to be something you are not for fear of being seen as “less than” (Less Than = our self talk about how we are not enough). Do you authentically and courageously claim and speak your truth in partnership, or do you hold back, watching for someone else to model the way? 

  1. Let go of assimilation as a strategy.

Being like men as an identity group is a lose-lose situation, despite how it may seem we need to assimilate to fit in at work. Research clearly shows that the world economy craves the feminine traits of leadership that many women are acculturated to from birth (empathy, communication, support, collaboration, communication). What do you do to try to copy male cultural attributes rather than show up strongly with your natural ways of being to add value and lead the way in partnerships?

  1. Balance advocacy and inquiry.

This is perhaps a general leadership tip, but rich partnership is dependent on a balance of talking (advocating/selling) and listening (inquiry/asking). When partnering with men (and women!) it is wise to balance how much we talk with how often we listen. Doing so creates trust, and allows others to know were we stand so they can react to and learn from, and with us. Do you pay attention to balancing advocacy and inquiry in most partner conversations?

As we strive to create workplaces where differences are leveraged to cultivate innovation, fresh thinking, creativity, and delight, we must learn to partner differently across gender lines when we think about women working with men. For women, this means upping our game to genuinely commit to being partners and allies to men with whom we work (with full, open, smart hearts and minds). It makes the work better, because they need us, and because we need them.

Jim Morris