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In the latter half of the 20th century, women entered the workforce at a blistering pace. By 2000, a whopping 77 percent of women between ages 25 and 54 had shaped a new society by getting up every day and going to work. By comparison, only 40 percent of women in this age group were working in the late 1950s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Many believed that, one day, women would become equal in numbers to men in the workplace, but research has shown that the once-booming trend has actually slowed slightly; about 75 percent of women 25 to 54 are working today.
In the same age range, about 90 percent of men are part of the workforce. Even though they are the predominant gender on the job, men have had to alter their work ethic, thinking and strategies to include the growing female force. At the same time, women have had to adjust their mindset to thrive in a mostly male-dominated labor force.
Are men and women that different to work with? While gender differences are obvious, the answer to this dips into murky water.
"It really is too difficult to stereotype as there are always exceptions to every statement, but as a whole, I think men are direct and to the point. They are goal-oriented and tend to place business issues ahead of personal, emotional and social variables," said Roanne Miller, vice president of sales at Jarden Technical Apparel Platform. "Women are equally goal-oriented, but tend to be less direct and are more considerate of personalities involved in a work environment. I also believe that women bring nurturing elements to the workplace and tend to take the time to listen and form a response after consideration of all aspects, where as men may act more quickly to immediate judgment."
How can women -- and men, for that matter -- navigate this psychological chasm? "Remember: men are people too," said Diane Foster, director of customer retention and loyalty at Backcountry.com. "If you're a woman and start with the assumption that it will be difficult to work in a company where the majority of employees are male, then that will be your reality -- and it will be difficult."
One of the most helpful tools women can possess in any workplace is self-assuredness in their abilities. "Have confidence in who you are and what you bring to the table," said Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, president and founder of Verde PR. "Listening is key, and making sure you are being listened to is also important. Women consumers are a big part of the engine that makes our industry run, and women who are members of the outdoor industry bring tremendous perspective on how to create product for women and how to sell to women."
Another tip involves being cognizant -- and proud -- of your position in the workplace. "Be conscious of and avoid stereotypical roles," Foster said. "If you're in a meeting with all men and someone requests that someone takes notes, don't volunteer unless you're the lowest ranking person in the room. You don't want to be viewed as the secretary."
Also, some workplaces can become cluttered with posturing and drama. Women can hold their own by focusing on results. "People who get things done get noticed," Foster said. "Figure out what important things need to get done and make them happen."
In the end, most managers say that gender is irrelevant to success in the workplace. Mark McMahon, owner and founder of Mission Playground, said, "The differences really don't have to do with gender, but with experience and commitment levels. Someone with more experience is easier to manage because they need less attention. A staff member who is more committed to the success of the company and brand will work harder to ensure the company is successful."
"The Male Mind at Work: A Woman's Guide to Working with Men" by Deborah J. Swiss (2001, Perseus Publishing) reveals seven "code breakers" that can help a woman win the confidence game in the workplace -- without selling out.
- Act self-assured even when you're not. Never let them see you sweat.
- Avoid the perfectionist trap as a barrier to feeling in control.
- Create your own shield of confidence by striking the right balance between absolute certainty and a reliable hunch about an action or decision.
- Never underestimate your own business instincts.
- Set your own boundaries on what feels comfortable and right, and what feels phony and manipulative, as you attempt to balance personal integrity with professional clout.
- Choose your battles carefully. But when you encounter an issue that's important to your cause, rally your best resources.
- You don't have to play like a man to understand him. But you should feel comfortable borrowing his best tricks.
This monthly column, a partnership between OIWC and SNEWS®, aims to address the issues that concern women in the industry most -- anything that is controversial, topical or newsworthy relating to women and the outdoors. The goal is to help, educate, inspire and grow. We welcome your ideas, gripes, thoughts and comments. Bring it on. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erinn Morgan is an award-winning magazine editor, whose work -- which focuses on outdoor sports, adventure travel, gear and sustainability -- has appeared in magazines from National Geographic Adventure and Outside to Bike and Skiing.