How to behave in an all-male team (W-Tech, Christina Ioannidis)

woman-male-world.gifWhat a way to get crowd engagement! Christian Ioannidis kicked off her session on ‘how to behave in all-male team’ by asking everyone in the packed room if who’d ever been the only woman in a meeting at work to raise their hands. And it was pretty much a full show… For those of you wondering why events like this are needed, that is a large part of the answer…

After that a quick biology lesson – women have 20 million more neurons apparently, though I’m no neurologist or biologist, so I can’t vouch for this (or be sure I’ve taken it down correctly!) but the basic point made is that yes, there are differences, broadly speaking at least.

Going on from that Christina presented a chart showing results from a sample survey of half million people – giving evidence that men have, on average, a greater mental preference towards the analytical/logical, left-brain modes of thinking, while women have a greater preference towards the emotional/communicative, right-brain modes.

And that, she goes on to posit, sets up the potential for a clash of broadly male/female cultures. Winning versus fairness. Single-focus versus multi-tasking. Etc…

One great example I could really relate to: questioning and discussing a decision may come naturally to the right-brainer / female way of thinking. But it can get you in trouble! Don’t make the number one mistake, says Christina, of telling your boss: ‘No!’ or pointing out faults when the decision’s already been made! Yup, I’ve made that mistake in the past too, though at least not to the CEO… I, like Christina, learned this the hard way: the time for debate is only before the decision’s taken, if you don’t want to risk offending the hierarchy and making things difficult for yourself. (Even if you’re right…!)

Top tips on being a woman working in a man’s world:

If the leader says jump, jump! Never publicly undermine the team leader’s decision. Only question when things are still up for debate.

Try to stay goal focused and get on top of your multi-tasking tendencies – the single-focussed male-brained observer won’t see how well you’re juggling lots of tasks, they’ll just think you’re disorganised. (And when you simply must do it anyway, don’t mention it!)

Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Remind yourself that power language and gorilla play is all part of the act. You don’t have to join in, but you don’t have to feel intimidated by it either. (Practical tip – if you’re asked for numbers and don’t want to join the one-upmanship game, just say ‘enough!’, confidently. The mystery will impress!)

Networking – the old boys’ network does exist – so you have to network to succeed. That might mean going down the pub with the guys, even if you don’t really want to. But if you want a way in, ask for advice on something you’re working on and get flattering those egos…

Don’t take things personally! Women often have more of a tendency to do this. But it’s not personal – to the all-male team even a crude joke is often just viewed as banter and a game. Let it go and move on.

Get out there – don’t hide. Don’t expect your work to speak for you – you have to be visible to key decision makers.

Finally, for everyone, male or female:

Embrance working in a cross-cultural style – embrace diversity of thought, and in practical terms, get yourself both male and female mentors so you can benefit from both styles of thinking.


Personally, I wish I’d been to a session like this about five or six years ago, as following some of the tips could have saved the naive younger me a lot of trouble. But I had to learn from my own mistakes – hopefully other attendees here might avoid ever making them! 


From the Q&As:

One woman raised discrimination in her office – men saying women shouldn’t work in IT as they simply couldn’t think technically – how to deal with that? Christina’s suggestion is to get the facts to back you up – show them the proven achievements of women in the field, yourself or others. (Some of the Ada Lovelace Day blog posts out there could be a good source of inspiration for this research!)