09/27/18 | Book Review, Career, Gender

Trapped in a ‘Boys Club’? Five Ways to Break Through Gender Bias at Work

“We’d like you to give a session on why women don’t negotiate.”

This is a common request I receive from companies across the county. After all, I’m a woman. I’m in business. I’ve tackled these issues and helped others do the same. But the presentation I end up giving isn’t any different than what I’d present to an all-male or mixed audience. It’s about how to negotiate, not why “they” don’t negotiate.

I’m not saying that gender bias is a thing of the past. Trust me. I’ve experienced the full gamut, from ridiculous to traumatic, as a woman in the workplace. I’ve been called “honey” and have experienced multiple instances of being mistaken for the assistant when I was actually the executive coach. I’ve been sexually harassed and even assaulted. These are the very real challenges women face today.

However, when I’m asked, “How do you handle being a woman in the workplace who’s trapped in a ‘boys club’ environment?” my response is one or all of the following:

1. Lead with your brain.

At work, I don’t consider my gender at all. My brain—and your brain—is what an organization hired. Your brain is what punches in and sits at your desk. Your brain is gender neutral. Other people may see your gender long before they get a sense of your brain or abilities, but you don’t have to choose to put energy into how your gender may or may not play in your favor. It simply doesn’t serve your brain’s ability to excel at the work you’re hired to do.

2. Look through a business lens.

I have no problem negotiating my raises or standing behind the work I do. But everything I do is viewed through a business lens, never through the lens of gender.

When you need to negotiate, grab your business lens and ask yourself: What do I have or what can I give that’s unique and in demand? How do I connect this to the people who need it? How much value does this bring and how much should I charge to make my services affordable, yet profitable? When you can help people save or make money, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your gender doesn’t matter. It’s Supply and Demand 101. 

3. Don’t wait for fairness. Create it.

If someone else makes more than you or I do, I love it—and so should you. Why? Because it means there’s room to negotiate; it means the market value for this type of work has gone up and there’s room to bump your salary or hourly rate. It’s up to you to convince others to pay you more, and this is part of the thrill of doing business.

Compare this concept to real estate: If my neighbors sell their home for far more than I thought someone would pay for it, I don’t focus on how much money they made. I focus on how the sale will increase my property value. I don’t resent the person who wants to pay me less for my home. I decide how much I’ll sell it for. And if no one will pay my asking price, I work toward increasing my home’s value and negotiating power.

4. Reframe gender bias in your favor.

If someone calls me “honey” or assumes I’m the assistant when I’m not, I don’t view this as a gender issue. Instead, I see a person who is on an ego trip or not equipped to consider others.

I was once presenting a status update in a meeting and was repeatedly interrupted by one of my male counterparts. Afterwards, a female co-worker mentioned how irritating it is that women are always interrupted when speaking. I was surprised. I didn’t view it that way; I didn’t see a man interrupting me because I wasn’t important. I saw a man who was getting excited about the work I was doing and wanted to be part of it. When you reframe bias, you take back your power.

5. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

When we know our brains matter more than our gender does—and we keep this fact firmly rooted in our minds—the mindsets of the people around us will rise to the temperature we’re setting in the room. If we keep focusing on the negative way our gender has been viewed and treated, we risk sinking to these low expectations.

Once when I was facilitating a group discussion, I was told by a man in the room to “Keep quiet, sweetheart, and just take your notes.” My first thought was to tell him exactly where to shove my notes. But I was there to ensure that the entire group felt safe. I didn’t cower. I firmly repeated my statement and moved the conversation along to the next topic. 

Later, he casually dropped an apology. But what mattered more to me were the comments from other people in the room who said they appreciated how I kept the meeting professional and focused, despite his interruption. A reactive thermometer requires less effort. But a skilled thermostat is a much more powerful way to live life.

In her new book, Low Man on the Totem Pole: Stop Begging for a Promotion, Start Selling Your Genius (2018), she helps people from all walks of life—from C-suite leaders to employees on the factory floor—learn to identify their unique callings and find their greatness.

Launch Tennessee

Launch Tennessee

Launch Tennessee is a venture development organization that supports entrepreneurs from ideation to exit. We’re guided by a vision of making Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the nation, so that entrepreneurs stay here to build companies and create jobs.

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