Why it's great to work with women

Remember how Leslie Knope took her protégé April Ludgate in <i>Parks and Recreation</i> on a garbage truck to teach her about feminism? That's ladies helping each other.

Remember how Leslie Knope took her protégé April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation on a garbage truck to teach her about feminism? That's ladies helping each other.

At a recent casual drinking session with a friend I was a little shocked when she mentioned that she was having a hard time at work, but that she considered it to be expected since her workplace was mainly women and so, of course, the atmosphere was “bitchy”. Firstly, I already have major issues with the word “bitch” and its permutations since it usually applies to behaviour that would be called something else if it was a man doing it (similar to the pejorative “nag”, which in most cases should be simply replaced with “remind”).

I was also surprised by her sentiments as I’m somewhat of an expert in working with women, since making the choice to work in publishing often means making the choice to surround one’s self with ladies as far as the eye can see. In most of the offices I’ve worked in it’s been 95 per cent women with one token guy on the team looking on in awe (that glazed over look that appeared when we discussed Ryan Gosling versus Joseph Gordon Levitt was awe, right?). The phrase “Where did you get that?” is one I’ve heard loudly and often.

I’ve really enjoyed working in oestrogen-heavy environments. Perhaps it’s because I went to an all-girls school and found it positive. (If you are continually told that you’re a “strong, independently minded young woman”, no matter how much you mocked it as a teenager eventually it’s ingrained in your psyche as indisputable fact by adulthood.) This is also borne out by research that shows girls in single sex schools do better academically and have increased confidence in study areas that are traditionally considered “masculine”. From my experience, a girls-only school teaches you down to your bones that women can do anything, because at our school we were doing everything. It’s one thing to be encouraged by teachers saying “Maths isn’t just for boys” but another to see them have to add another advanced maths class in your grade because of demand. And similarly at work I find it inspiring to see other women getting book deals, editing magazines and websites to a shiny gleam, and writing the sort of wonderful prose that can change how you see the world.

Now I know my friend isn’t alone in her assessment that female-dominated workplaces are a cesspit of nasty gossiping hidden beneath a seemingly friendly facade. Amazon is awash with books to combat this problem with disheartening (and extremely long) names like Working with Mean Girls: Identifying and Protecting Yourself From Workplace Nastiness, I Can't Believe She Did That!: Why Women Betray Other Women at Work and Mean Girls, Meaner Women: Understanding Why Women Backstab, Betray, and Trash-Talk Each Other and How to Heal. So I don’t want to discount her experience as not real, but at the same time it seems that is already the dominant narrative of what supposedly happens when women work together (the female competitiveness and bitchiness on display in the alleged roman à clef The Devil Wears Prada springs to mind as an obvious example in popular culture).

And yet that’s so rarely been what I’ve found. Many of the women I’ve worked with have been supportive of my work, helped me find further vocational opportunities and made coming in to work fun. I’ve come away with friendships that have continued long after I moved on to another role. This myth that women all view one another as competitors to money, men and promotions needs to die a swift, painful death.  And those of us who have had positive experiences in all-female environments need to speak out to help combat this tired old stereotype that most women deep down hate other women and are deviously plotting for any opportunity to cut them down.

Now, that’s not to paint working with all women as some sort of glorious girltopia. Of course I’ve had to deal with difficult personalities but I certainly don’t think it was my XX chromosomes or their XX chromosomes causing the friction. This idea that you put a bunch of women together, sprinkle some water and ta-da – instant catfight! – is ridiculous and harmful, because it just makes it harder for women at work to be upfront or assertive without being tagged with the “bitch” banner. If someone who is consistently mean to you at work happens to be female she’s probably not a “bitch”. She’s simply an office bully or a garden variety jerkhole – and those come in both genders.

 

81 comments

  • I have never worked with a supportive woman, years and years in the workforce and the male bosses have been the ones to let me on lunch and toilet breaks while the females refuse to let me use the bathroom or eat for the entire 12 hour day.

    If I ask a make colleague to mind my area in the shop whilst I go to the bathroom he always obliges, females often respond in the negative, one female boss once made me change my feminine hygiene product in the shop without allowing me to use the bathroom because I was 'a whiny bitch'.

    After watching security footage I have seen female colleagues lie blatantly to my boss about things I have achieved or how hard I have worked eg "no she didn't restock all the shelves, she spent the whole time on her phone and I had to do it all" when in fact I spent all day stocking the shelves without a single ounce help. My male colleagues on the other hand? "Yeah she stocked the shelves all day"

    My female work mates in numerous industries have always been backstabbing and rude not just to me but to each other, openly admitting that they would cheat and lie to get a promotion over me.

    I think you need to be a little more realistic in your article rather than saying "oh every female oriented workplace is wonderful" because its just unrealistic and you need to understand just because you are lucky enough to work with wonderful women it doesn't mean we all are.

    Commenter
    Tj08
    Date and time
    February 20, 2013, 8:37AM
    • Maybe that is a function of you working in retail rather than a function of you working with women. Although I haven't worked in retail, I do shop. I agree that most women who work in retail in Sydney are rude and stuck-up.

      Commenter
      Sarah
      Date and time
      February 20, 2013, 10:20AM
    • Sorry to hear that. When I worked in retail as a uni student, I had a lovely female manager. But she often complained about previous bad experiences working at other stores who promoted people to manager position just because they had been there long enough, not based on whether their personality was a good fit for that role. It is unfortunately an industry where they'll fire you once you get too old, so I don't think many companies are concerned in ensuring they have good cultures at their stores.

      Commenter
      Nia
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 20, 2013, 12:54PM
    • Made you change your feminine hygiene product in the shop without using the bathroom? Seriously?? I find that very hard to believe! Also, making employees work for 12 hours straight with no breaks contravenes labour laws. Are you perhaps hyperbolising ever so slightly??

      Commenter
      Liv
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 20, 2013, 1:39PM
    • I worked part-time in country Victoria as a high school student, in all-female environments (a takeaway shop and a film processing store - remember them).

      We all got along fine. So, not all female managers are mean or incompetent. Good to know as preparation for real life.

      Commenter
      Sapphyre
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 20, 2013, 3:25PM
  • Thank you! I've had the same experience as you, working in a mostly all female environment and have never considered personality clashes to be "bitchiness" but the fact that on a personal level the two of us don't mesh. I've had positive experiences in almost all the work I've done and I don't think it was better or worse because it was all women. The atmosphere was friendly, supportive and I got along well with almost all my colleagues. Similarly I've found working with some men to be great, and with others to be torturous, again because of personalities. Women aren't bitches, they're human and have the same quirks and personality issues as men. Some are bolshy, some are shy, others outspoken, and plenty who go to work to get the job done not because of some need to tear into other people. It's about time this tired stereotype of working with women was put to rest.

    Commenter
    Enigma
    Location
    The Stable
    Date and time
    February 20, 2013, 9:20AM
    • Hmm - I've had a long working career in a number of work places but can only relate to personal experience & what my wife tells me from her work place. IMO a work place seems to work best with a mix of male/females. All male & you miss the sensible female presence. All female & you do indeed get intense rivalry and cliques. My last three managers have been women and they were all fine - great to work with for me. The only really tense places I've worked were mostly female staffed and the conflict seemed to revolve around looks, boyfriends, social media. As a male outsider you can see the groups forming and melding into opposing camps where whispers behind the back and subtle exclusions become the norm.

      Commenter
      Mike Basil
      Location
      Hobart
      Date and time
      February 20, 2013, 9:21AM
      • I agree.
        Personally I prefer a roughly even mixture of men and women.
        I think it creates a good environment. You get the best of both worlds.

        When it comes to gender and working, it's too simplistic to say that women are all bitchy or men are all practical. I've met plenty of bitchy men, and plenty of practical women.

        One thing I'll say (and this may not be very popular) is that women tend to be more cliquey. They seem to desire to form groups more than men. Which is great if your in that group, but a bit annoying if you aren't.

        But men tend to be a bit more selfish at times as well, more interested in their career than team outcomes sometimes.. So swings and roundabouts.

        But again, a good mixture of both genders is my preference.

        Commenter
        Jon
        Date and time
        February 20, 2013, 10:54AM
      • I disagree. Have worked in all-female teams and there was never even a hint of this supposedly intense cliquey/competitive behaviour. Actually, it was one of the most positive workplaces I have ever encountered. Everyone was very supportive of one another, and there was a lot of flexibility to accommodate working mums.

        I generally prefer to work with a mix of genders and backgrounds, (because 'vive la difference'!) but it's certainly not because working predominantly with women is intolerable or any worse than working predominantly with men.

        Commenter
        Red Pony
        Date and time
        February 20, 2013, 2:10PM
      • Hi Red Pony,
        Fair enough, of course I guess we all have our own experiences, and talking about something like this so generally leads to quite vague conclusions.
        It's just my experience that women tend to display more in group bias than groups of men.
        But the thing about that is that I mean that very generally, and almost as often as I find that to be the case, i find the opposite to be true.
        It's just an occasional tendency.
        And there's actually advantages to cliques, they can be very supportive of each other. Just as there are disadvantages to not forming cliques - which is what I was inferring with my comment that men can be selfish in professional situations.
        But ultimately I've worked with women who are good and bad and men who are good and bad, and rarely had gender even entered my thoughts as a cause for behavior or a concern.
        I mean everyone's different, and gender is one of a million things that make up a person's personality and influences their behavior. It's a factor but one of many.

        Commenter
        Jon
        Date and time
        February 20, 2013, 3:38PM

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