6 powerful tips for women to succeed in a male-dominated office

Aug 14th, 2019 (updated on Sep 4th, 2019) Tisho Iliev
A confident woman
A confident woman (photo by Pexels)

I am starting with a disclaimer - I am a male. This article is a bit different compared to similar articles written by females. I have been working in multiple US-based tech corporations for 8 years. Women have always been a minority in this field. I remember there was a single time when we didn't have a lady in my team of 6 for one year.

It is bad to be a man in a workplace full of women or to be a woman in a male-dominated office. But it seems it is tougher for women. In 2019 women still make only $0.79 for every dollar men make. The reason is that women are less likely to have a high-paying job than men. The gender diversity truly resolves a lot of issues.

Next, I present you my 6 valuable tips for women working in a workplace full of men.

1. Dress for work, not for a party!

It's summer! And some women start showing in the office with short shorts and flip-flops. I'll try to be politically correct with this one, but lady, you are not filming a video for the newest Pitbull's song, you are at work. Throw your flip-flops out of the window and be professional, please!

Let me tell you, coming in the office dressed provocatively, like it is a beach party, doesn't do you any good. You are shifting anyone's (presumably males) attention to your skin and the way you look. You don't want that! You want people to focus on your work.

I am not much of an expert on women's clothing, but for me, to take you seriously, this is how you should dress like:

Dress code for women in the office
Dress code for women in the office (Tedxultimo, Marco Verch and Spencer Hubert, CC BY)

I am not saying you should dress formally, of course. You should dress adequately. Try to expose as little skin as possible. This will give you a more professional look and won't provoke flirting. The way you dress reveals a lot about your character and how much you respect your job. Use your clothes to your advantage and don't ever dress like a party chick when going to work.

2. Use your woman's strengths

A woman with a heart
A woman with a heart (photo by Pexels)

In certain areas women can bring a lot more to the table than men. Women care more about other people than men. It is because of their motherly nature. Use this strength to improve the relationships with your colleagues even more.

For example, when a colleague tells you about an issue he is struggling, take a mental note. Next time you see him, ask him whether he managed to tackle the problem. It makes a ton of positive impression. It shows you are compassionate and care.

Maya Angelou
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Maya Angelou, poet (photo from Instagram)

Also, women are better at listening than men. They don't just listen and absorb the information, they can sense the feelings and emotions of the teller. Use this strength to show empathy and connect with people on an emotional level. Again, this is a big win for your relationships in the office. Finally, women are much more kind and gentle than us - the "gentle"men.

3. Get the hardest tasks and accomplish them!

Women picking tasks
Women picking tasks (photo by Pexels)

Don't sit and wait for the boss to allocate the tasks. Take the initiative and be vocal about what you want to work on. Also, do not get the easy, boring tasks. They won't get you to the next level and won't earn you more respect. Always strive for getting the tasks which make you the least comfortable. The riskiest and the hardest tasks are often not wanted by any office worker. But they are the most rewarding after you successfully pull them off.

Sheryl Sandberg
Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.
– Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook (photo from Facebook)

This works if you are leading a team as well. Get the most challenging tasks for your team. This does not mean to make them work like hell and overtime. Just do not fill their time with boring and ordinary tasks, but with critical tasks, which when accomplished, will earn you the most respect within the organization.

After you finish an important task successfully, two things will happen. Firstly, everyone is going to expect the same or more from you in the future. Secondly, you'll get the respect from your boss and colleagues. You will show you get the work done. Do this constantly and let the work you do speaks for itself!

4. Be a part of the boys' club!

Boys' club
Boys' club (photo by Pexels)

The boys' club is real and I am a part of it. In our defence I'd say this club is not formally formed. The boys' club naturally forms itself and is based on shared interests. These interests include sports, cars, making jokes (unfortunately, yes, some of them are sexist) and women.

Is it possible for a girl to join the boys' club? Yes and no. To "join" our club… you guessed it… you have to be a part of the conversations when we talk about sports events like the World Cup or which car is better, hatchback or sedan. This might require a little bit of research from your side, but hey, it will pay back. Next time, why don't you start such a conversation?

About the sexist jokes - you don't have to be silent when you hear them. Guess what? You can strike back, you can make an opposite sexist joke. This could shut up a lot of males and gain you respect. Or, you can say "Could you stop this offensive conversation?" and successfully separate yourself from the pack. If you want to be a part of the boys' club, you should play their game.

It isn't only about the activities in the workplace. It's about participating in events outside of work, too. The sad thing is, oftentimes, we don't invite female coworkers when we go out. Why? We know you don't share our interests and you feel uncomfortable when we talk about women and make cheesy jokes. This means we'll have to conform with you which won't make the talk so enjoying and relaxing. How do you beat that? Show you are fine with participating in such conversations. Take part in them and joke back. Bring value to each conversation with the woman's perspective of the matter. If you consistently do not get invited to activities outside of work, don't be offended. Next time you can organize such an event yourself.

Women get less support from their managers and less access to senior leaders within the organization. This is a very sad fact for me. Most of the guys don't even realize this. Neither did I until recently. We do it automatically for historical reasons. By being a part of the boys' club, you'll get more access to the senior leaders eventually.

I guess as a female you won't be treated (and you don't need to) as an equal member of the boys' club, but you can be a part of it, for sure!

5. Improve your voice

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher (photo by Margaret Thatcher Foundation)

Your voice is the most powerful communication tool you have. According to the infamous Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, the right tonality can make all the difference in a conversation.

Jordan Belfort
Tonality is the hidden language of influence.
– Jordan Belfort, former stockbroker (photo from Facebook)

But what is voice tonality? Generally there are three types of voice tonality - rapport seeking, neutral (flat) and rapport breaking. Typically we use a rapport seeking tonality when we talk to our boss or someone we think is above us in terms of social status, coolness or something else. We use neutral tonality when we speak to our friends. And we use rapport breaking tonality when we talk to our employees or children. Your voice tonality reveals how do you respect yourself compared to the person you are talking to. Women tend to use rapport seeking tonality when speaking to men in a male-dominated office. Don't do that! Always use between neutral and rapport breaking tonality in the office and never use a rapport seeking voice tonality when you speak to men in you workplace! It is obviously very hard to explain the voice tonality in a text, if you need examples of what I mean, please watch this video.

Another aspect of the human voice is pitch. Female's voice tends to be high-pitched compared to the low-pitched male voice. Generally a high-pitched voice has a rapport seeking tonality. A low-pitched voice projects authority, strength and trust. This is why some women go to a voice specialist to train them to speak deeper.

An interesting fact is, Elizabeth Holmes, an ex-Theranos CEO, which currently faces up to 20 years in prison because of what could turn out to be the biggest fraud in the Silicon Valley, faked her own voice to sound more masculine and authoritative.

Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes (photo by TechCrunch, CC BY)

If you want to hear Elizabeth Holmes' fake deep voice, here is a video.

Margaret Thatcher, an ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom used to go to a vocal coach and made her voice deeper successfully, without sounding fake. Here is a video of Margaret Thatcher speaking before and after the speech lessons.

6. Know your sh*t!

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg (photo from Facebook)

This is the most crucial tip! Without being a master in your craft, it will be impossible to break the glass ceiling. In my opinion, the young ladies have the necessary knowledge and are on track because they have time. The issue comes when a woman creates a family, there is a noticeable drop in her expertise level. I don't need to ask them why, because I know the answer - "I have two kids and a dog, I don't have enough time for them, let alone for learning new skills and keeping up with the new stuff for my job." And this is pretty understandable even for a guy like me with no kids.

But to succeed you have to improve yourself constantly, even when having three kids. You should find a way. I will give you an example with Sheryl Sandberg, a mother of two and a chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook. She is also a founder of LeanIn.Org which "offers women the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals". She is most known for promoting hiring women for leadership roles and is an author of the #1 international bestseller "Lean In":

Lean In
image by LeanIn.Org

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

In this book Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, shares her personal stories, uses research to shine a light on gender differences, and offers practical advice to help women achieve their goals. (image by LeanIn.Org)

If you prefer video content, I can recommend a high-quality video course on influencing people. The course is offered by the University of Michigan - one of the most prestigious universities in the USA. You can watch the video course on Coursera where you can enroll for free. The certificate from the course could be shared on LinkedIn.

Michigan and Coursera
logos by Coursera

Influencing People

Learn how to persuade effectively and make your colleagues do what you want. Learn how to communicate, lead, present and make decisions. Also, learn how to protect yourself from manipulative techniques. (logos by Coursera)
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Tisho Iliev
Tisho Iliev
Tisho Iliev
An IT specialist with 8+ years of experience in developing software solutions. I have been working in multiple US - based corporations. How the working environment impacts the employees has always been fascinating to me. The working conditions, underestimated by many employers, contribute to the health and productivity of the employees and always affect the outcome of a project in a positive or negative way.
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