14 Frustrating Truths About Working in a Male-Dominated Workplace

Wendy Robinson | Oct 21, 2016 Money
14 Frustrating Truths About Working in a Male-Dominated Workplace

I work in education, which means that most of my colleagues have usually been women. I'd never really thought too much about how working in a female-dominated field affected my work life, until I joined an online group for women who were working on graduate degrees. 

Suddenly I found myself chatting daily with women who were going into fields that have generally been male dominated -- math, engineering, the sciences, business, and law. 

All of the women in this group are bright and accomplished. All of the women in this group also have many stories to tell about the sometimes funny but mostly frustrating experience of being outnumbered by guys at work. 

From straight-up sexism to more subtle experiences of being excluded, these stories are a depressing reminder that the glass ceiling is still totally in effect for women everywhere. 

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  • What to Wear

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    "So, my experience with law school was that there were approximately 203948203948209348203948 meetings on how women should dress in order to be/get jobs as lawyers.

    They involved the following questions, discussed in all seriousness and in great detail: Should you wear your wedding ring? Should you ever wear pants? Are skirt suits always more professional or are they sometimes slutty? How long should your skirt be? Are colors other than neutrals ever okay, in suits or in the shirts/dresses beneath? Are you allowed to wear flats? Are heels that are too high slutty? How expensive can your purse be, and are you worried that if it's too expensive people will think you don't need a job and if it's not expensive enough that people will notice it's cheap?

    Can you wear earrings and a necklace at the same time? Are glasses an accessory? Do you need to wear nylons all summer long? Is curly hair professional? What about a ponytail?

    So I bought a navy skirt suit that was not too short, even though I'm so short waisted that suit skirts feel like I'm being attacked in the rib cage by a shark and I can't sit down and breathe at the same time, and I wore it to interviews with muted jewelry and only neutrals and blow dried my hair and etc. etc. etc. 

    Fast-forward, I've started my job at the (spectacular) law firm I work for, and we're prepping for the first argument I'm going to attend at the Court of Appeals, and I turn to the partner I work with, who's doing the argument and is my very favorite, and I'm like, 'Hey, so is it okay if I wear a pantsuit, or do I need to wear a skirt to court?'

    And, no kidding, he looks at me like I am insane, because he has never ever thought about what I am wearing ever once in his entire life, and is like, 'Obviously not. Wear whatever suit you want.'

    I finally donated my last skirt suits to a women's dress-for-success-type charity this spring and am fine with refusing to wear them. And obviously my life goal is to wear as much jewelry as I can get away with it any given point, and I have only ever gotten compliments, not comments. But it's nice to know my boss would have my back if it ever came up." -- Katie B.K., Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Grad School Advice

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    "I was explicitly told by a member of my doctoral committee that they hoped I wasn't planning on getting pregnant again. I already had a kid when I came to grad school, and had number two and three (twins) when I was ABD (all but dissertation)

    AND I STILL FINISHED, I'd like to point out, with infant twins and an older kid while working 60 hours a week." -- Ruth C., Saint Paul, Minnesota 

  • Casual Everyday

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    "I got away with wearing jeans and T-shirts to work at my first (business casual) job because my boss was afraid to tell me I needed to dress more professionally.

    I was also explicitly told by the same boss that he didn't hire me just because I was the only woman who applied -- um, thanks?" -- Rachel W., Saint Paul, Minnesota

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  • HR Issues

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    "I work in HR for a family business that has about 100 employees; 93 percent are men. We recently were hiring a new person, a woman, and my boss told me that I should try to find out if she is married and what her husband's salary is so 'we don't pay her more than we have to.' 

    Yeah, that is illegal, buddy." -- Faith W., Topeka. Kansas

  • Conversation Stopper

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    "I work in a corporate envirnoment and the guys there are smart enough not to be like blatantly sexist. But I still feel like there is this divide. Like, they'll be chatting and I come up and the conversation just stops. Full stop.

    And it makes me feel weird. Like what were they talking about that I couldn't hear? It is a mind f*ck sometimes." -- Name withheld by request 

  • Sales Creeps

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    "I'm convinced there is no breed of guys more sexist still than sales guys. I work for a company where most of our customers are guys. I know for sure that the sales guys take them to the strip club and use their expense accounts to fund it. So gross.

    And it means that a woman from either company is probably not going to be involved in the sale, which makes it hard for them to succeed." -- Karen V., Cleveland, Ohio

  • Bad Bar Behavior

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    "You could write an entire book about the overt misogyny experienced by female bartenders (I plan to someday).

    But I bartend at a hotel, where 75 percent of our clientele are male traveling business people. Most of them are cheating on their wives (over half -- I stand by that. I think that's conservative). I get hit on, yes, regularly.

    Sometimes it's subtle (asking what I'm doing after work, writing in their room number on a note with their bill) and sometimes it's more egregious.

    One guy said he was going to go to his room to 'fondle himself' and asked if I'd like to join him; several times dudes have literally grabbed me by the waist or otherwise touched me." -- Cara R., Atlanta, Georgia

  • Card Games

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    "A group of men get together and play cards in our break room three times a day. I have noticed players come and go, but no woman has ever sat down and played. Instead they warm up their food and eat at their desks." -- Linda D., Osh Kosh, Wisconsin

  • Double Standard

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    "I'm the only female manager at my company. The other week one of the guys brought his son in for the day because his daycare person was sick and his wife was out of town. Everyone thought it was so great and that he was this amazing dad.

    I 100 percent know that if I had been in the same boat, I would not have been praised for it. I would have been getting side-eyes left and right." -- Heather S., Phoenix, Arizona

  • Mansplaining Stopped

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    "Just this week I had a female leader (of color) ask two male superiors to kindly stop speaking so that I and another woman in a meeting could get a word in edgewise. I was doing all kinds of fist pumping under the table.

    I had another incident earlier this year with one of those men where after a couple of glasses of wine at a conference I stopped him mid-mansplaining and told him he WOULD let me finish speaking." -- Carrie J., Denver, Colorado

  • Sexist or Just a Jerk?

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    "While I was working on my PhD, my adviser told me that if I ever got pregnant, he would kick me out of his lab. 

    More recently, I received an invitation to attend a seminar about biotechnology entrepreneurs. The panel of speakers was 10 or 11 folks who were ALL white men. I wrote to the organizers and told them how unacceptable this was, and their only reply was 'well, we invited a bunch of women but they all declined.'

    Shortly after I joined the faculty for a chemistry post, another faculty member confided in me that he 'never hires women scientists, because they get pregnant. Give me a young single guy with a fire in his belly!' This was also after I had just had a baby." -- Sally C., Lawrence, Kansas

  • Stop Explaining!

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    "I work for a construction management firm. My biggest beef is the constant mansplaining! I've worked here for over a decade -- and I still have guys trying to explain basic concepts of construction to me. It drives me crazy." -- Elisha P., Scranton, Pennsylvania 

  • Crabby Guys

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    "I was at a paper mill and asked a person who worked there, 'Do you hire women? I don't see any.'  

    His response was, 'Yeah, we do hire women, and we hire more than we used to, we are up to about 20 percent now! The thing is when someone gets a job here they stay for a very long time, so it's hard to get more women. Plus, when we do hire them, they tend to want to work together and I don't blame them because we have a lot of old crabby men.'

    Then, at the end of the tour during our wrap-up, he states to the whole group: 'I got a good question from someone, where are all the women?! It's a great question.' He went on to say the same thing he told me before, but he added: 'Plus, our hours are hard for families [2 day shifts, 2 night shifts, 4 days off]; unless the woman has a grandparent or friend to watch the kids while they're at work, they can't work here.' 

    Poor excuse for boxing women out of this industry, if you ask me. Those jobs are high-paying, high-skill jobs and don't require the same kinds of manual labor they did 50 years ago." -- Jennifer C., Saint Paul, Minnesota 

  • Twice as Hard

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    "I honestly don't have the energy to sift through my experiences and coherently tell my 'best' (worst?) stories.

    I did learn that I have to work twice as hard as the men to be thought of as an equally serious mathematician. The combination of the sheer number of sexist stories and the working twice as hard is exhausting to me." -- Jenna P., Saint Paul, Minnesota 

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