How to Survive the “Boys Club” When You’re the Only Woman+

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male coworkers whispering with a woman unhappy at forefront
Breaking Barriers

As much as we would like to believe that gender equality has been established in the workplace, the unfortunate reality is that many industries are still male-dominated. This can lead to a “boys’ club” mentality, making it challenging for women to navigate the workplace. I dare say we’ve all been there (and by “we,” I mean women+): You’re in a workplace dominated by men with the typical behaviors associated therein. What does this look like? Important decisions made on golf outings or drinks after work that you weren’t invited to; hiring family, friends, or college buddies for positions that didn’t exist prior or that haven’t been externally posted; sexist jokes normalized; folks working well into the evening because their wives take care of the kids; the list goes on and on. “Boys’ Club” behavior is gross and creates toxic workplaces, but it’s especially difficult to contend with when you’re the only, or one of very few, women+ navigating these spaces. 

If you find yourself working in a “boys’ club,” it can be challenging to know how to succeed. So here are some tips for surviving and thriving in this type of environment.

Build a support system

One of the most important things you can do is build relationships with your women+ colleagues. If you are the literal only one, start networking to meet more women+ in your industry. This could include attending networking events, joining professional organizations, or attending local meetups. Building relationships with other women+ in your industry can help you share experiences and find potential mentors. She+ Geeks Out is a great place to build relationships!

Find a woman+ mentor

Having a mentor who can guide you through the ins and outs of the industry can be invaluable. Especially if they have already “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” They can provide advice and support and can help you navigate any challenging situations that may arise. Here’s some great advice on how to find a mentor that’s right for you.

Be confident

I know, easier said than done, right? But keep in mind: you were hired for your skills and ability to do the job. It’s easy to succumb to imposter syndrome when you’re the only woman+ in a professional space, so remind yourself of your badassery on the regular. Create a “WINS” or “GLOWS” folder (on YOUR personal computer/drive) with screenshots of praise and accomplishments as a reminder of what you bring to the table.

Set some boundaries

Working in a boys’ club can sometimes mean dealing with inappropriate behavior or comments (super gross, but it still happens). It’s important to set boundaries and make it clear that you won’t tolerate any kind of harassment or discrimination. If these incidents still occur, schedule a visit with human resources to document your concerns (make sure you keep copies of everything on a non-work device). While this can be difficult to do, it’s important to remember that everyone deserves a workplace that is physically and psychologically safe for all staff. And sometimes, we have to advocate for ourselves to get it.

Surviving and thriving in a “boys’ club” culture as a woman+ requires confidence, assertiveness, skill, and support. Building a network of allies, establishing clear boundaries, and advocating for yourself can help you deal. If you find that things don’t seem to be getting any better, it might be time to consider another job. And now that you have a pretty good idea of the type of place you don’t want to work, it’ll help you identify the type of environment you desire and deserve.