Finding My Voice in a Male-Dominated Workplace

Finding My Voice in a Male-Dominated Workplace

The software and technology industry is almost entirely dominated by men. Yes, there are women working in most companies, but your typical software developers, QA engineers, and even high-level executives are men. I know, because I worked in marketing for two different software companies.

There are pros and cons to this type of demographic setup, and it isn't for the weak of heart. Growing up, I'd always been a strong willed and, for the most part, independent girl. I tended to lead the pack, whether in my friend circles, in academic settings, or in social and extracurricular activities. I had to learn to take a back seat to being in charge once I entered the working world. Going from leadership roles in high school and college to being in an entry-level position (where it's rare to be in charge of others) is a tough transition. I thrive on leadership, and had to learn to let others teach, guide, and lead me in the working world as I started out and advanced my career.

I've been lucky to only have a few instances in my career where I've had to really stand up for myself as a woman surrounded by men, because I know it can be a lot worse.

You know you work with men when there are a bunch of bicep shaped stress balls floating around the office!

My most recent position was at a startup software company that I had the pleasure of watching grow from 20 people to 60-plus. Startups often require folks to step up and complete tasks that aren't necessarily in their main job description. We all wear many hats.

I was one of the only women in this office, and became the "cruise director" in some ways. I knew that the position included office management duties in addition to my marketing role because we were such a small company. As we grew, I had to juggle even more responsibilities. I handled vendor relationships, planned social events, and kept the office running. It was a lot of added work to my regular schedule, but I excel at organization and like making things easier for others.

However, I did notice that people assumed that because I was in charge of certain things in the office -- from food service to office supplies -- I was available for their every need.


Last Christmas, I hired a company to decorate our office for the holidays. It was beautiful! We had handmade wreaths, garlands, and a huge tree under which we piled gifts we collected for a children's shelter. One of my male colleagues sent me an e-mail a few weeks before Christmas to tell me that the wreath on the front door wasn't secure, and would hit him in the face every time he opened the door. He asked if I could fix it. Now, I am more than happy to assist people -- especially in this case, since I was the one decorating the office. But the fact that it took him longer to e-mail me than to secure the wreath himself just made me feel hurt and annoyed.

Man, I wish I still had that e-mail on hand, because I remember feeling so put off by it. There wasn't a nice greeting, nor even a "please" or "thank you." It's not like I needed a fluffy e-mail offering me roses, but it is basic courtesy to be polite!

Fuming, I decided to respond with something politely snarky that pretty much said, "You can fix it yourself. I am not your mother." I am not sure how he meant the e-mail to come across, but I immediately got an e-mail from him with an apology. It is important for me to make sure I have respect from people when I am equally giving them my time and respect.

I could have handled the situation in many different ways, but I am proud of the way I reacted, because there have been a few other times when I have felt used because of my gender. Men can sometimes assume that women are more capable of, and more willing to do, domestic jobs. Balancing the marketing and events portion of my job with the administrative and operational part could be difficult. I needed to do my best at both, and I think people forgot that I had duties beyond ordering lunch for the office.

It is easy for us to lack self-confidence and always worry about what others think of us, but as women in the workplace, we need to be confident that our talents and work are just as valuable! I've learned that in most cases, I need to separate my emotions and feelings from the work tasks at hand -- and that with most people, you need to take things at face value. I thought that being pregnant in the workplace would just further people's views on my job as being more domestic than it was strategic, but I that didn't turn out to be the case. I am so grateful for the support I received from my co-workers. It isn't easy being pregnant, let alone while working 40 hours a week and traveling!

Ruthie at a trade show

Overall, I have been so lucky to work with a such a wonderful group of people that make a 9-to-5 job a little more fun! I've gotten to travel all over the United States with this company, and am so thankful for that opportunity. Fridays consist of breakfast tacos in the morning and a beer happy hour in the afternoon. Remaining mindful of my equal voice and the need to express myself effectively in my workplace is just as important, however -- for myself and for other women like me who work in male-dominated fields.

This post is part of BlogHer's Women@Work editorial series, made possible by AFL-CIO.

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