Ladies, have you ever met one of those men? One of those men twice your age, who makes 3x your salary, who looks down the end of his nose and calls you young lady?
Of course, you have.
That’s because it isn’t just one man. I have encountered many of these men in my career. I work for a predominantly male company. And by predominately, I mean that I am often the only woman in the room during a meeting. I have been called young lady, little miss, her (instead of my name), and any other work appropriate term you can think of that both belittles my age and calls out my gender. In meetings, I have been talked over, heard my ideas repeated right after I’ve said them, and been asked to be the note taker almost every single time.
I don’t tell you this to complain. I tell you this because this is the reality of the working world for women out there. While there are a lot of wonderful, respectful men who treat women as peers, there are also quite a few duds stuck in the early 1900s. As much as I want to shake these men and demand that they respect me, I know that won’t work, so I want to share with you some of the tools I’ve employed to combat the archaic old men who are still confused about why I am even in the room in the first place, much less speaking and having ideas or opinions.
Don’t laugh at his jokes
These men base a lot of their worth on how great everyone thinks they are. As a young woman, you are an easy target to prove to others in the room that he ranks much higher than you. So, his fragile ego is easily bruised if embarrassed by such a lowly underling in front of others.
Whenever he tells a joke, which is probably stupid and not funny anyway, don’t even crack a smile. Bonus points if you look him straight in the eye while not laughing. As soon as the forced laughter of the room subsides, don’t even let a moment of silence pass before saying, “Anyway, back to what we were discussing….” to show that he’s not only unamusing but also wasting your valuable time and you won’t stand for it.
If he interrupts you, do it back
Take a moment to think to yourself about how many times you have sat in a meeting while one of these men blew hot air and talked about nothing for 20 minutes. Remember that next time he interrupts you while you are trying to say something of actual importance.
These men are like animals. They think the authority goes to the biggest, loudest person in the room. So, as soon as he cuts into your sentence, continue talking, while also raising the level of your voice to show that you will be heard and he can wait for his frickin’ turn.
Come in with an itinerary
This is one I got from my mom, a woman who has been working in a male-dominated industry since the ’70s.
If you’ve called a meeting that you plan to lead and you know one or more of these men will be attending, come in with a structured itinerary to keep them from taking over the meeting and talking about whatever problem they think is more important than the meeting you called to discuss something specific.
Include the schedule in the meeting invite and throw it up on a slide at the beginning of the meeting so that there is no confusion about exactly how this meeting is going to go. If he ever starts rambling in his loud, throat-sounds-like-its-full-of-chocolate voice, you can keep him on track with some passive-aggressive work lingo like; To get back to the schedule… or ….we can take that offline.
Never let him see you flinch
The point of his behavior is to make you feel weak and stupid, which you most certainly are not. When he shoots down your idea, defend it with vigor. When he asks you to prove a point that shouldn’t require proving, show him the facts you have prepared because you knew he would ask. When he’s wrong about something, look him in his big, stupid face and tell him exactly all the ways he is wrong.
And don’t ever let him see you cry. Ever. Hold it together until you get into a bathroom stall and then scream into the sleeve of your sweater like a badass.
Have a friend who knows the situation
This has been a very important one for me. It is very easy for these situations to make me feel frustrated and defeated. On some occasions it even makes me start to questions if I even know what I’m talking about or if I should even have the responsibilities that I’ve been given.
Having a friend, ideally someone you work with, who you can go to immediately after these interactions to decompress helps lessen the blow. Someone who already knows the whole story and can validate that he was being unfair and ridiculous. Someone who can tell you that you are important, smart, and your contributions are meaningful.
Remind yourself that you will never suck as much as he does
You are a tough, amazing woman who doesn’t need the validation of a person like that. Be happy that you don’t feel the need to make other’s feel small to feel big. Also, you can use this as an opportunity to be more aware of making space for other people in work settings. Give that intern a chance to offer up a solution or ask the thoughts of that quiet guy on your team who always seems like he’s just about to talk in meetings, but someone else starts talking first.
Most importantly, always remember that you are capable of everything that man thinks you can’t do, and you can choose every day to be a better co-worker and person than that boring potato in a sport coat.