are what help form bonds, foster loyalty, and encourage people to be team players; these relationships often have the potential to be stronger, and more essential, between women. What’s more, friendships between women have considerable health benefits. A 2009 University of Michigan study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, for example, found that when women feel emotionally close to other women, their bodies produce more progesterone, boosting mood and alleviating stress—a handy workplace survival kit if ever there was one.”
Wow. Just as I finished writing last Monday’s post, I read the above article on the value of female friendships, and realized I missed an important point on Monday’s list. My besties!!! Of course, they account for a very important factor in leading a healthy life.
Ironically, the reason I missed putting my friendships on my list is that I value my close personal friends so much that investing time in friends is a given. Au contraire, I stay in touch with my friends! They always know what’s new with me, or how I feel. I count on them when I need advice, and rely on their good judgment, fantastic sense of humor and ability to see through my BS every day. Nobody knows me better, and nobody knows how to be there for me like a pro… than my besties. And of course I try to lead my own life in a way that I am there for them too. For it is an honor to know your friends’ wins and struggles, hopes and dreams.
Step 1: Love Thyself, And Others Too!
Obviously, the first lesson I learned in life was that you need to get your life in order YOURSELF, be confident in yourself and make yourself happy instead of relying on others. And I definitely do take responsibility for my own happiness and confidence. That said, there’s something to be said about that sense of community that you get from your true friends. I can share my deepest darkest secrets, biggest fears, along with all the great things happening in my life without feeling judged with my true gal pals, and vice versa. I love hearing all about the little things going on in their lives, whether it’s to vent or get advice. To me,
knowing about the details is a way to feel close to the people who care about me, and knowing that we trust each other enough to share things that aren’t always flattering, or ask questions that might be embarrassing. Just the other day, my bestie emailed a group of us about a wacky dream she had. We all laughed and gave some relevant (read, goofy) input. And this is exactly the same kind of conversation I expect with my girlies. Random thoughts or happenings – bring ‘em on!
Where My Ladies At? No seriously…
As I’ve mentioned before, the legal field still has a high male concentration. Ironically, there’s more women going to law school, but I still see more men in the workplace. Weird, huh? I’ve spent most of 2014 thus far working exclusively (or mostly) with men.
The last project I was on, I was the only woman in the room, so we all know which friendly introvert was silent for days when the dudes talked about sports, medieval jousting armor and video games. And sure, I killed it at the job, but I was miserable, felt left out, unsatisfied and bored. Then, when I got called back in for another project at this same firm, I had some serious anxiety about working with only men – and this time for a LOOOONG time (like half a year). That’s the thing about contract work – you don’t even know who you’ll be working with or for until your first day. You’re totally going in blind.
This time has proven most instructive, and as I felt like I was missing something I couldn’t put my finger on, I decided to explore the differences in how men and women relate and to figure out what exactly I was missing. I took away several lessons from working with mostly men. Let me share them with you – and I’d love to hear if you’ve experienced similar things…
Silence Is Golden, or Is Sharing Caring?
The first thing I noticed is that while I’m an introvert (I tend to gain energy from being on my own, and quiet reflection), I still need social interaction.
Similarly, when I did work with other women, our conversations about work quickly moved into more personal topics as we got to know each other. On the other hand, while the men I work with are both introverts and extroverts, they could sit for hours and hours on end without talking to each other. I would feel like I needed to share something funny I saw, or say something after three or four hours of silence. While the men sometimes did strike up a conversation, they did not seem too bothered by lengthy periods of silence or not sharing in things they found funny. Several of them listened to podcasts or audiobooks, and laughed out loud to themselves. I, on the other hand, would feel the need to share something interesting or funny once in a while. If I didn’t just get it out I would feel like I would explode.
Facts vs. Emotions: Men Are From Mars
The next thing I learned from working with mostly men was just how much the content of our conversations differed. Male conversations center on facts or things that happened on a larger scale, whereas mine center on feelings and people’s inner workings. When the guys did chat, their conversation was very different from my own. I noticed that men liked talking about sports, weapons and other guy-centric activities. I don’t really care about sports, and while I LOVE history, I’m more involved in thinking about how it affects me today, not about getting ALL the facts down to the year something happened. Also, I LOVE talking about food, and these guys were more practical. They got their lunches at the same sandwich place every day, and didn’t understand why I thought food was so interesting.
And even if we talk about the same topics the men discuss, women and men focus on different aspects of the same topic. When Game of Thrones came up, the dudes were one-upping each other by quoting things every character said, whereas my friends and I talk about whom the characters reminded us of, or how someone is going to get out of a predicament. I certainly don’t remember specific quotes, and I’m more impressed when someone knows that one actor was in another movie, or is going to play this other character, or dated so-and-so. I’m more interested in people and how they work, whereas the guys I interact with deal exclusively in particulars, specifics and facts. And so I’ve noticed I just feel excluded or bored by most guy-on-guy conversations at work since I don’t necessarily remember details, I remember plotlines and human interactions.
I’m not saying ALL men are like this, or all women for that matter. But I have been noticing a trend. I have found that my interactions involving multiple men talking to each other vs. me talking to one guy one-on-one are pretty different. I’ve worked with guys who also talk about food and restaurants, and have an interest in human interactions or psychology. However, when even these same guys are in a group of other men, they often change the way they interact and make me feel left out.
While it’s natural that some men have more things in common with me – I still find that our interactions are not as fulfilling as with women. And understandably so, I have more in common with women just because we have had common experiences that only women can and will have. And I do find that I am sensitive – I need to feel listened to, in the way that generally women are more sympathetic. I do have a need to talk about emotions, and let out how I feel about things. It’s not just that the ladies and I can talk about beauty products we’ve just discovered, books we enjoy, and about local boutiques with cool stuff or sales. It’s the way we talk to each other – the camaraderie, sympathy and sharing – that I really crave.
Even when I have less in common with the women I encounter at work (whether because of age differences or women being more into shopping than me), I still feel more comfortable with women. When there are women at my jobs, I mostly work with women who are moms, so even that is interesting for me to discuss. I’m interested in the food they cook for their families on weekends and we talk recipes or health stuff.
Also, obviously when the guys at work talk about stuff I have no idea about, I am learning stuff. I do love history, so I listen in on their conversations and ask questions. And I’m not saying that my girl friends don’t spew facts either. I have some braniac girlies in my life – doctors, lawyers, techies, finance and accounting pros. They know their facts and aren’t any less smart than the guys I work with. I just find that we strike a balance of fact, fiction and feelings, whereas conversations with groups of men feel very one-dimensional. But then again, maybe I’m just missing something.
I did recently befriend the man who sits next to me. Like the other married dads, he was there to work. He didn’t really chat with anyone, other than a friendly hello. I kind of just started by asking work-related questions, and then tested the waters by pointing out funny things in documents I had to review. He would get a chuckle here or there, and then he’d put his headphones back on. He wasn’t even being rude, I just noticed he wanted to keep himself to himself. But after weeks of keeping at it, I asked the right questions and discovered he had two daughters. So we talked about all the kid movies he has to see, which obviously I love. And at least now I can do some sort of small talk with him. So after 2 months on this job, I was honestly ok with just small talk with men and at least having someone I could point out something funny to… I’m an introvert – I’ll never talk your ear off for hours, or disrupt your workday, but I need SOME social interaction. Especially when I’m working five or six twelve-hour days in a row! And sometimes working is so silent I’m nervous people can hear every crunch I make when I eat a small salad, or something that you would never think is crunchy or loud! Silence!
The last difference I noticed was that women tend to build a sense of community, while the men I work with like to go at it alone. It’s no wonder I like to share ideas, or food, with my neighbors, right?
I discovered this last point when the male-female ratio changed dramatically. Without explanation, one day, our firm hired TWO more people… and both were women! I literally danced in the bathroom when I found out. And one was placed across from me – so I FINALLY had someone to talk to or commiserate with, or at least know I wasn’t the only one eating chocolate (yes!).
Things changed immediately! They invited me to happy hour with them the first day they arrived – lol, they probably saw that I was eager-beaverly trying to include myself in their conversations… And unlike the dudes, they gracefully let me in without me fighting to be included. On day two, we were already exchanging our favorite tea and sharing chocolate (oops!). And of course, this impacted our work. It seemed that the entire group suddenly felt more involved when discussing work issues, instead of people doing things their own way and realizing too late that we were all doing things differently. I was no longer the only one asking the whole group whether they were doing things one way, but everyone feeling more comfortable to speak up and ask questions.
This is the kind of social environment I am more used to. I am used to people sharing ideas, sharing things they enjoy and including each other. That’s not to say that the guys I work with don’t share ideas, but they certainly aren’t aware that I’m trying to join in on their conversations, or chat about something that I might know more about. And unlike most of my girls, the boys aren’t going to invite me to their happy hours, even if they openly discuss them in front of me, or if I ask where they’re going. Not that they’ve had a lot of happy hours since most of them go straight home to their adoring families. But the moms will go out for happy hour – what gives?
My new work friends ask people questions and get conversations going where everyone feels included. Also, when the guys start talking about their facts about the Marvel series, my new pals successfully bring things back to what’s really important here – cute actors and Scarlet Johanson’s outfits! And then everyone has something to contribute and feels included.
And quite frankly, this more engaged atmosphere definitely affects our work in a positive way. In the week that my fellow ladies arrived, our group started functioning more as a team, and less like ten attorneys minding their own business and acting separately. We don’t talk all the time, obviously – we’re attorneys. We work very hard. But the atmosphere is different. While I was unable to foster a warmer more inclusive environment on my own, once I was not the only one, things changed drastically. So yeah – things are totally different. I’m happier, feel a lot more engaged and included, and feel like I can finally contribute something.
Quick note – you’re probably thinking, Mirabelle, you’re so naive. Obviously men are different from women. I get that. But so far in my short life, most of my close friends have been women. I never quite knew why this was, and figured it’s just because I’m shy around men. But having gone to law school and learned to be more assertive (i.e. I don’t consider myself shy anymore), I still feel that I don’t connect with men in the same way I do with women. So I just wanted to figure out what the heck was going on. And the last note I have is that I honestly don’t think the men I work with notice that they exclude women, or that we have a different way of interacting. I think that most men are unaware that I am not talking, or just assume it’s my choice or fault for not delving into the riveting topic of Dungeons and Dragons, or of which football player scored how many points in 1983.
What do you think? Do you feel that you need some lovely ladies in your life? Have you ever been in a mostly-male environment? If so, did you consciously notice any differences? And if you’re a man, have you worked in a mostly female environment and noticed any differences? Do you wonder if women at your job are aliens sometimes?
Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!