Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being a woman employee in a man’s world:
I’ve recently received a promotion at work however my boss told me that I must be strong because I am a woman and that this is a tough men environment. He compares me with another female worker who could not stand the pressure. He keeps on reminding me of that and I really hate it. He also keeps on reminding me of the need to perform or I might end up like this other woman. What should I do? I feel stressed!
Signed, Don’t Need The Pressure
Dear Don’t Need The Pressure:
Whatever your boss’s reasons for talking to you about the need to do well,I can imagine it could add to your stress about the new role you have after promotion. He is incorrect in emphasizing the gender difference, just as he would be in talking about a racial difference. His counseling and guidance should focus on the knowledge and skills you need to gain and on the work style that would be beneficial in that setting, no matter what your gender, age or ethnicity.
On the other hand, it could be he truly wants to see you succeed or wants a woman to be successful, and feels he would be remiss to not mention some of the issues that caused problems for the last woman who was promoted. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on what she did or said, he is putting his focus on her gender as the primary cause for her problems. If you feel comfortable talking to him about it, consider saying, with a pleasant tone, “Paul, do me a favor. Instead of making this about me being a woman, let’s just talk about what anyone needs to know to do well. I’m not Mary (the other woman who was promoted). All women aren’t alike just like all men aren’t. So, if there are specific things I need to be aware about those will help me the most.”
Consider asking your boss if you can meet with him for a few minutes every day for the next few weeks, to keep him informed about work. Tell him that in that time frame (you can set it at, say, ten minutes, to avoid taking up too much of his time or yours) you would be interested in hearing tips and techniques for developing in your job. Asking for “advice” sounds more needy, which you don’t want to sound like. Asking for “tips and techniques” sounds more like professional development. Asking for “help to be more effective” sounds as though you admit you are having problems. Asking him to “help me with my development in this job”, just acknowledges that everyone needs to grow.
It may just be semantics, but might help you feel better about talking to him about this. Apparently you were viewed as someone who could be effective in a higher level. Your boss may incorrectly think his excessive comments about your gender in relation to work, will be helpful. Or, he may have concerns about your style of working or how your success or lack of it will reflect on him, but he is not skillful at counseling about it. It is even possible that he was told to “mentor” you, and this is his idea of doing it! If you think his motivation is positive, attempt to work within that, knowing that when you are successful in your work his heavy-handed advice will probably stop. If you think his comments are based on bias about you as a woman and reflect that he doesn’t want you to succeed, you may want to or need to talk to your HR section or someone above him about it. Perhaps this type of counseling was what created the problem for the other woman employee!
Keep your focus on doing good work, according to job standards and what you know to be effective. Consider getting a copy of your job description or your organization’s performance rating form if there is one, and use that as a guideline every day. Work to fulfill every aspect of it consistently and regularly. Document your accomplishments through a personal log on your computer.
Occasionally let your boss know about significant accomplishments or how you’ve met work challenges. That way he will know how you are doing, even if he isn’t around to observe it.Consider it a personal challenge to not allow your boss’s comments to create stress to the point that you don’t do well. That would justify his thinking that you can’t handle the pressure of the job. Instead gain confidence and influence by increasing your credibility through good work.
Communicate directly and effectively with peers and direct reports so they see you as a positive, active part of work. Commit to yourself to keep work pressure in perspective. Your boss’s remarks, while frustrating and irritating, do not seem to be mean-spirited or hateful. You can try to reduce them, re-direct them or work through them. While you’re doing that you will be gaining tenure and experience in your new role and soon all of this will be in the past. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things are going!
Tina Lewis Rowe