How to survive in the boys-only business lounge
The glass ceiling is starting to crack.
Ladies, we are on our way to gender equality not just in the work place, but also in the C-suite. According to government statistics, the number of female directors in Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 companies has increased by nearly 8 percent since 2011. That’s quite a step in just a few short years, but we’re not there yet. Big business is still a long way from equality, as nearly 80 percent of directors on the FTSE100 are men.
Still, signs are better than ever for the aspiring female CEO. But gender-based hurdles make career goals unnecessarily difficult for the professional woman. Yes, the office floor is reflecting a truer gender balance, and high-ranking women are appearing in the boardroom. However, many aspects of the business world still resemble a boys’ club. For whatever reason, the business lounge seems to be one of these exclusive male zones. Any woman who ventures in will find herself in a world of men talking business with other, you guessed it, men.
“So what?” you might ask. You’re a confident and capable person, you’re comfortable around men and you can perform just as well. No matter what environment.
Right? Well that’s the thing. We can’t.
Stereotype threat 101 – Why you’re rarely at your best.
As comfortable as we might think we are around men, social psychology begs to differ. Due to a phenomenon known as stereotype threat, a woman is unlikely to perform at her best when in a room that is almost exclusively male.
So what is stereotype threat? It’s an adverse effect that arises from social pressure of resisting to conform to a negative stereotype. For example, that crazy idea that women are bad at mathematics could set a woman to perform worse on a mathematics exam, regardless of her level of ability. Sad but true, stereotype threat occurs in pretty much any social group associated with a negative stereotype.
This isn’t sexism. Stereotype threat does not require anybody to endorse or reiterate a given stereotype. Take a group of men in a business lounge. Do they have a problem with a women’s presence? Of course not. Are they necessarily being dismissive or intimidating to her? No. However, the wealth of negative stereotypes about women will still negatively affect her.
A shift in perspective – How you can address and overcome stereotype threat
Combating stereotypes starts with adjusting your perspective to protect yourself from these negative thoughts. The second is external, and involves doing what you can to make areas like this less ‘threatening’, which in short means getting out there and going to the business lounge.
Stereotype threat is made worse by fixating on the part of your identity that has a negative stereotype associated with it. This study found that if your gender is brought to the forefront of your mind, or primed, the threat associated with being female is made worse. The solution is to stop focusing on the issues associated with your gender. Letting it be less of an issue will give it less mental space.
Certainly, it’s easier said than done, but consider this: the stereotypes holding you back are probably not reinforced on a grand scale. Trust that your colleagues are enlightened enough not to buy into gender stereotyping. This mentality can go a long way by staying positive and not focusing on the negative.
It’s time to take the lead
Once you’ve done what you can to adopt a less self-sabotaging perspective, it’s time to start evening out the numbers. As we’ve said, minority status is an important factor in stereotype threat, and the only way to address this is to simply make women less of a minority in the business lounge. And that starts with you.
As much as the odds are stacked against us in these male-dominated areas, the only way change is going to happen is for brave pioneers pave the way for more women to have their voice heard. Encourage female colleagues to do the same, and we will start to see change in the boys-only business lounge.
Now, let’s go put more cracks in that glass ceiling.
By: Beatrice Hardy
Beatrice Hardy is a freelance writer and hula-hoopist. She misses pogs and early Kanye West.
You can often find her in an i2 Office business lounge, fighting stereotype threat in between complimentary cups of coffee.