Does being a woman at work look different than being a man? Not necessarily. But are there challenges women face at work that makes going to the office more difficult? Absolutely. For myself, and many women I talk to, our biggest challenge in the workplace is figuring out how we should act. The world tells us we can’t be feminine and strong. We can’t be successful and respected.
Early in my career I too believed I couldn’t be successful unless I proved I could act like a man at my job. So as I set out to make it in the field of broadcast journalism I tried to show I could be “aggressive” and “tough.”
Fortunately, I failed miserably. I say fortunately because turns out I just wasn’t very good at acting like a man – and that’s okay with me. It felt wrong trying to be someone I wasn’t. After all, God had made me a woman with my own set of feminine strengths. Now, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t still be good at my job, and couldn’t be aggressive in a positive way.
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Challenges Women Face at Work
I work in a city filled with successful strong women. And that’s great! But when you talk to many of these women they feel they have to put up a hardened exterior or men won’t respect them. They feel that men are also intimidated by their success. Worse yet, they also feel that if they are able to gain men’s respect through “acting like a man” they’re not well-liked and called derogatory names behind their back.
Is it true? Are women still discriminated against in the workplace simply because of their sex? According to the National Journal – yes. Is it widespread? I’m not sure. While I have seen examples of discrimination, I have also worked with more men who appreciate hard-working, thoughtful and smart women.
So how do we handle our fear that we’ll be seen as weak if we’re too feminine – or worse– domineering and bossy when we’re direct and confident? We can either worry about the situation – or we can prove it is possible to succeed in the workplace while maintaining our femininity. But that may mean making a few changes on our end too.
It’s no revelation that women are more emotional than men. I once read that women release a special hormone when they cry that makes us feel better. I’m not sure if this is true, but it makes sense to me. I know I always feel better after I cry. But I think there is a thin line between our natural emotions, and letting them control us. I’ve had to learn not to stuff my feelings away, but also not to let them get the better of me just because someone is short with me. Forgiveness and grace are two tools I’ve come to rely on when dealing with people at work and learning to control my emotions.
“It’s not personal, it’s business”
We all get frustrated with people we work with – that’s just how life goes. In the past, even if I tried my best not to show if I was frustrated or angry with a co-worker, I couldn’t stop myself from seething at my desk. What good does that do? My emotions were just the surface of the real issue: I had to figure out what was causing them. Then it hit me. I was taking everything personally. If my boss sent back a column with red edits all over it, I figured clearly he hated it and thought I was a terrible writer. Then I reasoned with myself a bit. No, he didn’t hate me; actually, on a personal level, I knew he did like me. It was just that he wanted to fix my work to make it better.
Years ago when I started a new job I noticed that I kept getting into arguments with a fellow male coworker, while he and another male coworker also had disagreements, but always seemed to work out a solution.
I explained my situation to my boyfriend (now husband!) who pointed out what was really going on.
Every time my coworker criticized an idea of mine, I immediately got defensive and tried to pin the blame elsewhere. I then realized he just wanted my respect, the same thing I wanted in return.
From then on if it was an issue I didn’t feel that strongly about I said, “sounds great.” If I genuinely wanted to know why I just asked him. “Could you explain to me why you think that’s a better idea? I’m just trying to understand.”
If I flat out disagreed with his decision, I also asked him for further explanation and afterward explained to him (calmly) why I still believed my idea would best help us in the office. (Quick tip: Using “us” and “we” is a great tool when trying to avoid unnecessary conflict).
Sometimes he still shot down my idea, but most of the time he listened and took my advice. Working with people is about compromise, and letting the other person know you’re here to work with them, not against them.
Strengths in the Workplace
I’ve decided that instead of playing a victim, I will tackle “challenges” of being a woman and to the best of my ability, turn them into opportunities to grow. Because imagine what we can do when we leverage our strengths, too.
Women are naturally more relational than men. We love working in teams and listening to other people’s ideas. We provide encouragement and help people become the best they can be. We’re also good at drawing out other people’s strengths.
Generally, we’re more empathetic, too. It’s nice to have that one person in the office that lends an ear to listen, or even a shoulder to cry on. This helps build strong and healthy working relationships and a trusting environment.
Ever heard of a women’s intuition? Women are better at picking up on subtle cues from people – whether it’s tone or body language. Therefore, we’re great at picking up on signs of confusion, frustration or anger. It usually drives us to pursue a follow-up question or conversation for more clarity – and often – find solutions to problems others may have missed.
Know How to Compromise
Sadly, “compromise” can be seen as a weakness, but the opposite is true. No laws would ever get passed, products sent to market or successful marriages made without compromise. It’s not just essential to keeping the peace, but essential to productivity. Two oxen constantly butting heads will never plow a field. Compromise not only allows movement and progression but for good ideas to become better. According to the Pew Research Center, 34% of women excel at compromise compared to men’s 9%. Let’s use it to our advantage to find the best ideas.
See the Big Picture
Women tend to look at our coworkers as whole people, not just someone we work with. We take into account their personal lives, their frustrations, and their joys. Women constantly seek out a resolution with people because we believe it’s important to move forward.
We also fight more to improve quality of life. Because of that, we tend to gravitate towards filling in the gaps at work where others may have missed it. We like to help and support our co-workers believing their success is our success.
And so as not to think I’m only touting that women bring something special to the workplace, men have many great qualities to emulate as well. They are great at managing and delegating, asking for what they want directly, taking risks and separating their personal and professional lives to remain more focused at work.
They can also be just as empathetic, kind, and nurturing as women. The point of this article is not to pit men against women, but to see that offices or companies are healthiest and most successful when embrace and appreciate both.
Just look at Romans 12:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
As women sometimes we deal with the added pressure of proving ourselves in the workforce, either because of real discriminations or false pretenses we have of men. But it’s been my experience that any coworker or employee that works hard, stays focused and remains kind would be an asset to any office – regardless if they are male, or female.