This is a sensitive topic and some feelings may be hurt, so stop reading if you can’t handle it. I don’t have all the answers and my advice is based on my experiences and observations, but I hope this post will help at least one person realize they are hurting others and they will change their behavior.
I’ve been a women working in male dominated industries for more than 30 years. I’ve either been very lucky, clueless or naive, but I haven’t been subjected to any of the loathsome, boorish behavior of bullying, intimidation, and objectification of women in tech that I’ve been reading and hearing about lately. I think one thing that’s helped me be successful and enjoy my work in tech, is my understanding of men and their code of conduct. Sharing it with you might help you too.
Men – My Experiences
I grew up with 6 wild uncles and followed my father around on weekends where he played ball, hunted, fished, farmed, and occasionally went to the Eagles’ Club. I played pickup games with the neighbor boys. We had BB gun wars and the odd scuffle.
I’ve worked with men in the Army, electronics field, and IT. I went to college first in electronics, then EE, then CS. There weren’t a lot of women in any of those experiences. In general, I am far more comfortable dealing with men than I am dealing with women.
Hopefully I can provide some insight for women who haven’t spent the leisure time with men that I have.
Men have this thing I call “Man Pressure”. It’s the pressure to perform and deliver and to maintain face. They are always in competition. They have this whole Lord of the Flies interaction with each other as boys, and that continues into adulthood. They find a way to either win or survive as boys, and later try to find a place where they can either excel or survive as adults.
Women tend to frighten the more insecure men because women can expose them to ridicule from the other guys. A women beating them at anything is sure to trigger this response from the group. Especially if the woman does anything to draw attention to her victory. Where it’s OK for a man to needle and boast in front of other men, a woman doing so will cause the man to lose face. From what I can tell, it’s like a woman calling out a fashion faux pax made by another woman.
A lot of men in tech weren’t the Alpha males in high school and have bad memories of being ridiculed and embarrassed. Now they have a comfortable club of men in tech where their skills matter more than their athletic ability, body shape, or hygiene. Teenage girls are mean, and the more insecure guys are afraid that the women entering their world are the same cruel creatures they escaped.
You can avoid triggering those insecurities. Show them you’re not the same kind of girl that was mean to them. Don’t make competition personal and don’t share personal judgements about them. Be a team mate, not a competitor. Celebrate their accomplishments with them.
How to Handle a Bully
Bullying can be a response to the insecurities that some of these men have about interacting with a woman in their workplace. It doesn’t matter whether you understand the code or not – bullying and aggressive language and behavior is unacceptable!
- Confront bullying and aggression head on. Call it out and let the aggressor know you won’t accept that behavior.
- If the bullying or aggression happens publicly, call it out in public. Do it at the first sign of trouble, accepting it is viewed as a sign of weakness.
- Don’t get personal in your judgements. Keep the conversation about expectations and the results.
- Be calm and factual. Take time to collect yourself if you can’t control your emotions
- Involve your management and HR department if the behavior continues