And I’m not alone. Many women experience the nuances of gender power dynamics on a daily basis.
From our voices being drowned out in the boardroom to dealing with business situations that turn into social settings filled with blatant sexual stereotypes, the male-female dynamic has a way of sneaking into the professional arena.
The workplace is strewn with unclear boundaries. And with more and more meetings happening over drinks and business conversations taking place during parties, the line between personal and professional starts to blur very quickly.
Oftentimes, men are subconsciously neglectful or demeaning to their female team members, and they need some guidance from women to change that behavior.
I was 19 when I started working at Google; since the six years I spent there, I’ve been advising startups and VCs on strategy and development — and growing a startup of my own. Across these experiences, one thing has become clear: The responsibility for drawing the line between professional and personal falls to both men and women.
Together, here’s how it’s possible to remove the blurred lines from your business:
Set clear boundaries.
Although the workplace gender dynamic is often annoyingly flawed, denying it exists won’t help the situation. Be aware of the nuances of gender politics and the way they play out in your daily work scenes. If you suspect that going to dinner or drinks starts to cross the line between professional and personal, opt to invite your colleagues for a group brunch at your office instead.
Dress appropriately for business meetings, and leave your cocktail attire at home. And rather than freely sharing your personal contact information, keep all professional correspondence to email and LinkedIn.
In the early days of my startup experience, I remember presenting an idea to my team. I knew it was a good idea, but the response to my presentation wasn’t as positive as I’d hoped. A day later, a guy on the team presented and described a nearly identical idea. The response he got, in comparison, was gushing.
But instead of sulking or bemoaning the fact that this kind of display was even possible in the 21st century, I used humor to help my team understand the situation. “Hey, I actually said that yesterday,” I said. “Maybe I should just tell Pete all my ideas to share.” The team took the hint well because I threw it at them with a pinch of sarcasm and lightheartedness.
Talk the talk, and walk the walk.
If there’s anything this faulty power dynamic does well, it’s giving us the motivation to improve how we do business, work harder, and achieve higher. To get past conversations that are dominated by gender roles, you need to fill that space with your expertise. With your tech contacts, master technical language. With your marketing team, learn the market inside out. Outsell the salesman.
Use psychological tactics, like mirroring body language and emulating tone, to make sure you’re talking person-to-person, not woman-to-man. The more powerful and confident you are in the subjects you’re talking about, the less room male counterparts will have to sink back into old habits.
Get down to business.
When an employee whom I’d interviewed to join my company started persistently asking me to get a drink with him, I could tell that he wasn’t exploring a business avenue. But every time he tried to persuade me, I asked him what the meeting agenda was.
The key in that situation was consistency. I didn’t veer from my professional concerns, and the guy soon realized I wasn’t there to play games.
Any time you’re in a setting where your primary objective is gaining business contacts, collaborating professionally, or sharing ideas, make your intentions very clear. Quickly convert the social context to business mode. You’ll probably find that men appreciate this clarity and change their own mode accordingly.
Despite all these tactics, navigating gender dynamics is tough, but it helps to seek advice from women who’ve already done the navigating. I think it’s a responsibility of women in business to look out for and mentor other women. Insights can only help if they’re shared.
That’s not to say that men can’t make great mentors, too. I’ve had many male role models who have encouraged me to start my own business and introduced me to the networks I needed.
It’s going to take a concerted effort from both men and women to create a professional environment where gender can be forgotten and business can be as productive, exciting, and collaborative as we’d all love it to be. At the end of the day, a good idea is a good idea — regardless of who it comes from.