Monday, May 16, 2011

Lady's Hips in Men's Pants

The fires decimating Slave Lake and area are filling the airwaves so I respectfully submit this piece I wrote a little while ago reflecting on working in a mostly male industry.

I've been working in a men's industry for a few years now and I like to think I've achieved a pretty solid handle on what it takes to become comfortable in a world that was classically considered 'a man's world'. This advice is mostly geared towards the 'softer', more introverted woman mostly because that is more likely the type of woman who will seek out advice (their more boisterous counterparts have figured everything out and find advice unnecessary) but also that is where my experience lies, being fairly quiet in unknown circumstances myself. It is also not directed towards the higher corporate levels, since I have little experience in that world (so far). Regardless, here are some guidelines I have hit upon (or wish someone had told me).

1. If you want to sleep around people are going to react to that. The industry has a higher proportion of people with an old-fashioned sensibility and this tends to manifest in the fashion of the "prude/whore" belief. The ramifications of this is that if you originally connect with your coworkers on the sexual level, it is incredibly unlikely you will overcome this without a large deal of time and prudishness.

2.  This can occasionally happen even if you are just perceived as being promiscuous. Men tend to have a broad gossip ring just like the stereotypical women's ring, and one favored topic of speculation is attractive women. Denying it has little to no effect; it's best just to ride it out and let the truth surface.

3. Make sure your gear fits, whether it is a uniform or safety gear.  You'll want a fitting uniform because it will make you feel like you belong, like you can do the job. Sometimes when people are watching to make sure you do it right, you concentrate on doing it right so much you screw it up. Fitting safety gear is crucial because a lot of the time it is designed and sized for males, and if you just shrug and ignore it you are putting yourself at risk; at least of annoyance and discomfort at most of injury or death.

4. The vast majority of men will connect with you on two levels (mostly because of the dichotomy mentioned in number one) that can be simplified as a niece or a night. The older males tend to treat any woman younger than them like a niece, and even some men that are the same age act a little protective. The other half tend to view you as a more-sexualized counterpart. Not to say all those men want to just sleep with you; some want a genuine relationship and some are content just to acknowledge the sexual energy. This is a simplification, and you will find subtle differences, but I found this mind frame useful.

5. Learn to figure out the difference between offering advice because you don't know what to do and offering advice because, as a woman, they believe you can't know what to do. Hell, for the first two week I would advice against drawing any conclusions at all, since some people automatically baby new folk; you'll learn to tell the difference soon so unless it is really egregious - breathe. A good rule of thumb is file it for further reference (to check for patterns) unless you want to go to human resources.

6. Learn to do the job. Maybe you won't be fantastic at it, but learn to do it and try to do it well. Few things are more destructive to your self-esteem or career than being lousy and constantly asking for help.

7. That being said, don't convince yourself that you shouldn't ask for help, whether it's because you don't know what/how to do something, or because you physically can't. Sure it might be annoying to be considered 'a delicate lady', especially if you are working towards being stronger, but ruining your body through injury ensures that you won't ever get the respect, or the physique, you want.

8. Furthering that point, when you do start making gains and 'showing off' (Don't act like you aren't going to want to) tone things down about 10%. Failing really sucks and undermines your position. Also don't be surprised if guys show off in response, or 'preen'; a lot of guys still don't like what they perceive as " being beaten by a chick". Take heart, this attitude typically fades and is replaced by acknowledgement of abilities.

9. It is okay to reassure people you won't run to file a complaint at the sound of the first raunchy joke, but don't tell yourself that it means you can't ever go. Sometimes things get serious and you have to assess what would be a bigger damage to your mental happiness, things being awkward with coworkers or feeling like you waived your dignity for comfort.

10. It is so cliche, but don't forget to enjoy yourself. You chose this job for a reason so try to have a good time. If you find you genuinely can't, there is no shame in moving on. It happens and once you find the right job, you won't care what you waded through to find it.

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