The Only Working Girl: How to Cope in a Male-Dominated Workplace

That Working Girl Contributed by: Farah Joan Fard

I was on a studio tour at a new job, when I heard a whisper.

“A woman!”

I suddenly felt like that one french fry that makes it into your basket of onion rings. Very out of place.

More women are finding their way into male-dominated fields. And if you’re that sole Working Girl in the office, you may have some reservations. It’s natural to feel a little awkward at times, but we’ve got you covered.

On the Defense You may have your guard up, but being on the defense can make you – and others – uncomfortable. Don’t assume that anyone thinks it’s weird or doesn’t want you there. You’re not out of place; you’re all there because you share a common interest and goal, right? Being defensive about it will only distance yourself from coworkers and, unless someone brings it up, may just seem rude.

Confidence I had a bad habit at one of my jobs and classes when I was the only female. I assumed my peers thought me as incompetent or less skilled, and this made me second guess myself a lot of the time when I was right or had a good idea. Assuming that others thought I lacked confidence actually made me less confident!

Queen Bee Ok, ladies, you may not like this, but sometimes women hold other women back at work. While job hunting, lots of peers assumed that if I interviewed somewhere predominantly male, I’d be a preferred candidate (which is unfair to assume, since I’d like to be hired for my skills and personality, not for being female), and that a female hiring manager would want another girl in the group. I found it to be the opposite. Perhaps a coincidence, but some comments made to me during these interviews gave me the impression that they didn’t want to give up their ‘Queen Bee’ status. I knew that the men who eventually got the jobs were qualified, but I couldn’t help but to think that the female ratio was preferred to be kept down. Don’t let this happen to you! It’s perpetuating a bad cycle.

The Worst While there were perks to being the only woman in the office (ladies room to myself!), there are uncomfortable situations, too. My first week in one studio felt like I’d joined a frat house. Great coworkers, but man the place smelled. Not strictly a male problem – I’ve had messy female roommates in my life (hello, college). But myself and another guy took it upon ourselves to clean up the place and let’s just say we found a fuzzy burrito. Ew. Of course, sexual harassment is something you must report immediately. I know males who’ve been sexually harassed at work, too, and that’s no joke. Likewise, if something bothers you and others aren’t aware, speak up. Just like the recent Charlie Baker incident, lots of my female friends can’t stand it when they’re referred to as ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’. But do your peers know that? Speak up! Your employer may be hypersensitive to the fact that you’re the only woman. One of the jobs I’d been laid off from asked me to sign an agreement because they didn’t want me to sue them for sexism. Of course I couldn’t have. The entire department was laid off!

What have you encountered as the only working girl in an office? What field do you work in? Share your thoughts with us in a comment below or tweet us at @HeyWorkingGirl! Keep up with Farah on Twitter @LaParadiddle, and be sure to check out her wonderful site, laparadiddle.com!