Today in my networking challenge I am interviewing Jennifer Crittenden. Jennifer is the Author of The Discreet Guide for Executive Women: How to work Well With Men. I know I work with a lot of men at work so that is why I am very excited to speak with her today, so thanks so much for being here Jennifer!
In case you are reading this at work and can’t watch the video, you can read all of the great advice below instead!
1) How can women work better with men in a male dominated work environment?
Don’t treat the men as the enemy. I’ve noticed when I was working on my book that there are number of books out there that do take an adversarial role toward your male colleagues like beat men at their own game or hard ball for women. I don’t think that’s the right approach when you’re in the corporate world. You need to work as a colleague to your male colleagues. The first step that you need to take is to recognize that you’re part of the team and they’re on your side.
2) What is your background?
I was in corporate finance for almost 25 years. Because I was in finance, I worked with a lot of bankers and attorneys and those often I’ve tend to be men. I started working on the book when I started noticing that my female colleagues didn’t seem to be succeeding as well as I felt that they should given that they were diligent, intelligent and well-educated. But, some of their behaviors were not helping them in this male environment. I began observing that sort of mid-way into my career, maybe when I was at director level. By the time I reached my highest level and was in the executive suite, there were no other women. They’d all either stagnated at the level that they were at or they dropped out. And that was very disturbing to me, not only were they not doing very well but they weren’t there anymore. That’s when I became quite determined to write down some of the things that I felt could better equip women to really succeed and achieve these higher levels that we’d like to see women at in corporation.
3) How can we get noticed and be heard in a room full of men?
This is basic mistake we all make, make sure you are nice and loud. We have smaller bodies and smaller voices and when you’re competing for airtime with guys, with big voices and big bodies, we have to remember that we really actively have to project our voice. So make sure you’re nice and loud. When you’re talking to guys, you must get in quick and get out quick. As women we often have a tendency to introduce our idea in a very polite way, we might compliment the other person what they have just said and suddenly you haven’t got into your point yet when the guy interrupts you! So make sure you get to your point fast and then get out fast. Once you’ve made your point close very obviously by saying, “I’m interested to see what you have to say about that.” Because we have the tendency to trail off or begin to redirect what we said if someone has interrupted us. And it weakens your point if that happens.
It’s very hard for women to be heard at work particularly in meetings. There’s another phenomenon that I’ve talked about, where you say something in a meeting and nobody says anything about it, nobody reacts to it. And then a few minutes later, a guy says the same idea and then everyone says, “oh what a wonderful idea.” This really makes women so mad. I hear about this all the time.
Maybe the idea is kind of developing on a fly. Maybe it wasn’t exactly the idea that you had or he used a word that resonated more with the audience. I think it’s worth going back and kind of dissecting what happened, what you said and why it wasn’t picked up. So that next time when you do want to present an idea, you can present as a little more clearly and get credit for it. You are part of the team and have a voice too.
4) What are some classic mistakes that women make when working with men?
It can be a tough environment and so its hard to stay brave. Typically, what will happen to a woman when she starts struggle a little bit in the workplace is she will begin to withdraw. A lot of times she’ll see a dynamic in which the guys in the team are all kind of in each other’s face, there’s a lot of interaction, activity and they see each other after work. Then there’s a lone female who doesn’t really interact with them very much in an informal way just in meetings or by email. You really have to become part of their network. And you have to let them get to know you personally and not just professionally. That’s one of the hardest things because when you’re the lone female, it can be a little disconcerting but you have to get out there and mix in with all the guys. And the rewards for that are huge because once you’re part of that informal male network, they will come to you. They will include you in meetings in the hallway. They will really value your input but you have to make the first move.
5) If we encounter some bad guys at work that we still must work well with, how do you recommend that we handle it?
There are definitely bad guys in corporate America. From liars to bullies to sexual predators. You wouldn’t think that this kind of bad behavior would be tolerated in a workplace, but it is. And when the guys are otherwise performing well and producing, a lot of times companies will look the other way. That can be difficult for their coworkers especially if they are women because a lot of times guys like to pick on women and they seem to treat them as they are just there for their amusement. The bully sometimes won’t bully the guys but they’ll pick on a woman for example. The first thing to do is identify who you’re dealing with. In my book, I gave advice on how you recognize somebody who’s a bully, how you recognize somebody who lies to you to manipulate you. There are ways of coping with each of these individual types. The first thing is to try and be empathetic. Its very challenging but often guys and women who misbehave in a workplace do have something a little bit wrong with them, they may have a terrible marriage or they may have a very unhappy childhood. People are often quite twisted. If you can step back instead of being angry at their poor behavior, try and think a little about why they’re behaving that way. You might find it a lot easier to deal with them. The other thing that I would suggest is try to find one thing about them that you like. One thing, even somebody who’s a jerk, that you can resonate with and you can turn to when he really is acting like a jerk. Sometimes it’s his sense of humor. Sometimes it’s that he is a good father. I think its useful to have this kind of go-to crutch so you don’t necessarily react to his poor behavior in an emotional way. Its difficult when you feel your tears coming up to know what to do. Other things I do are try to count 1 to 10 from 10 backwards. Take a deep breath and try to physically release that tension from your body.
6) How can women get past the glass ceiling at work?
One of the things that struck me early was that the male managers where not providing very direct and clear feedback to their female subordinates. That’s a problem because guys coming up to the workplace are getting really good feedback, direct information and specific constructive criticism about their work. This all really helps them improve and succeed. If the women are not getting that, that can hold them back. We have to make it safe for our male managers to give us feedback. The ways you can do this is to ask for feedback specifically. When you do get feedback, you can’t react to it emotionally. If you do, that sends a message that I can’t handle this feedback. You want to send a message that I’m liking this feedback I am glad you’re telling me it especially if you did something wrong because now I can get better. I think women who played sports that often come intuitively to them because they’ve been coached so they know what it’s like to be told something wrong and how to put that feedback in action and improve yourself, which can be rewarding. We have to make it clear that we like getting feedback and make it safe for them to give it. It’s all up to us to do it. They’re really are a lot of bad managers out there and usually male managers are kind of afraid of their female subordinates, They won’t interact with them the same way that they do with men. They don’t have these informal exchanges like they do with their male subordinates. She’s not going to make it to the highest levels until she gets the same kind of support and feedback like the guys do.
7) This question I ask at the end of all of my interviews, what do you wish you would have known when you were a young professional woman just starting out in her career?
In the LinkedIn discussion group, somebody asked if you can go back in time at the beginning of your career what would it be? And hundreds or thousands of comments from women. It’s really quite moving to read all those comments because there’s a common thread that runs through them and it is be brave, have faith in yourself, follow your heart, you know more than you think and I feel the same way. When I went back to graduate school, I’m so sorry that I didn’t engage more that I didn’t stick my hand in the air more. I was pretty insecure. I didn’t have a business background. I wasn’t sure that I really belonged in business school. As a result, I think I learned less than I could have and made less of an impact. And goes to your first job too. The combination of courage and common sense is such a powerful combination. Be brave. Trust yourself. You know more than you think.
7) If people want to learn more about you where can they find you online?
The book is called the discreet guide for executive women. My website is Discreetguide.com. I’m also on twitter now. I’m working on another topic about communication and gender. I am particularly interested in sports language at work because I hear so many sports metaphors in a workplace mostly from men.