Personal Finance

How women can fight off workplace bias



  • You’re obviously an intelligent and valued member of the team or you wouldn’t be a part of it.
  • You do not need any special treatment because you’re a woman.
  • If the boys enjoy hanging out with each other, it is alright.

A senior manager who takes care of several markets at a multi-national organisation wrote in to say her management team is not gender-sensitive. As the only female in management, she is excluded from the inner circle. There are get-togethers that she doesn't attend for personal reasons, which limits her information and progress. She frequently “bumps” onto information that seems to have been discussed in other circles during meetings. “Talk of discrimination”, she exclaims!

Let’s call her Carol but if this sounds like your experience, you’re one of the “Carols” that I’m addressing.

I empathise with you. It is not clear how you know that pertinent business matters are discussed elsewhere – where only the boys go. Please bear in mind that you choose not to go. This notion may feel very real for you. Again, I empathise with you.

My suggestion is that you keep an open mind to the possibility that your suspicions may be untrue and this is probably just your discomfort about being the only female in your organisation’s management team.

To begin with, you want, but you do not need female company in the top team. It’s alright that you’re there. Sit confidently and comfortably! You are there because you serve a purpose that contributes to the overall business. I suggest that it is unnecessary to consider your gender. What’s below anyone’s neck is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Work from your neck upwards – that’s where I’d strongly suggest you focus.

Now let’s delve into the “discrimination” part. In turn, I am willing to keep an open mind and agree with you that you are indeed left out of “the inner circle” because you “bump” onto information in the boardroom. What do you do when you bump onto the information? Do you enquire if other members are in the know at that moment? I’m working with the assumption that there is a leader among you that you can engage with on this in or outside your boardroom. Have you done so? It doesn't seem that you have. In which case, you made an assumption on which you proceeded to take offense.

When you serve on any team, you are full member of the team irrespective of your gender – even if others do or say things that seem to indicate otherwise. The more important question is whether you’re ready to be that full member where your participation is concerned. Expecting to be treated with special consideration does not build anyone’s confidence in your position as an equal member of the team.

It is ill-advised to quietly sulk on such a matter. Even if the others don’t know it for a fact, they can feel it in your manner. It’s unhelpful for you. It is not necessary to fraternise with the male team members in places you are not comfortable with or do not support your other roles. Your participation is most required on the boardroom table, not outside of the room wherever it is you think other pertinent information is being shared – that’s is the reason you’re on this team. If you are confident about the value of your participation, you do not need to go out with the boys to fit in. You do fit in already – that's why you are there.

There’s two ways to tackle this; ignore it. Work confidently in the knowledge that you are a bona fide team member and that everyone on the team embraces you fully. By the law of appreciation, what you appreciate will truly appreciate. By fuming about this behind the scenes, you are in effect appreciating the notion that you are indeed excluded from the “inner circle” and that being a woman has caused it. Not true unless you make it so in your mind.

The second way is to go the “rights way” and enquire as to how other information escaped you – that’s if you’re sure you didn’t peruse a group email and miss it. Approach the leader and raise your concerns in a respectful, tactful and confident manner – that means no accusatory remarks whatsoever. You want to exercise considerable caution here. If the incident happened a couple of months ago and you didn’t address it then, you will be displaying the level of pettiness that can only aggravate the real or perceived exclusion.

As you may already sense, I would advocate for the former route. Rise above it. The notion that you’re excluded is taking a life of its own in you. You’re feeding it with your negative feelings about the rest of the team and it is obediently growing into a tight giant bubble. I can tell you that even you shouldn’t stick around for when a little trigger sets it off!

You’re obviously an intelligent and valued member of the team or you wouldn’t be a part of it. You do not need any special treatment because you’re a woman. If the boys enjoy hanging out with each other, it is alright. If they talk shop and forget to update you, remind them that you’re here and they will learn not to do it. Teach others how to treat you and they will learn to operate using your Instruction Manual”. Remember that no one can make you feel any way without your permission.