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December 2013

How To Kick Ass In A Man’s World

Desi McAdam knows well what it’s like to work in a male-dominated business. For the past decade, she has braved the testosterone-rich tech industry—a sector that’s only about 25 percent female—and learned to navigate the sometimes geek-forward misogyny for which it’s known. As a developer and managing director for Thoughtbot, a software development company, McAdam, 37, says her community can be a great place for women—if they’re willing to adapt. McAdam offers advice for women who know they can do anything the guys can do (only better).

Read up on the imposter syndrome—that phenomenon where despite evidence of your competence, you are convinced you are a fraud and do not deserve the success you’ve achieved—because it’s real and I think pretty common among women. Knowing it’s real helps me stop that thought process.

Don’t send cues that make you easily discountable. Do not apologize all the damn time. Do not say, “I may be wrong about this, but….” Do not giggle. Do not let on that you’re nervous. Do not say, “I’m not good at this stuff so….” 

Tell the men you work with to knock it off with the sexist jokes. I’m not a fan of going the HR route unless something is really egregious. Instead, I think you should just say you’ve had it with the “That’s what she said” jokes. Being direct works with men. Try it sometime.

Find some like-minded women who are at a similar level professionally as you are and talk to them. Vent. Laugh. Ask for advice. You need some female  allies when you work with dozens and dozens of men.

One way to kick ass in a man’s industry is to try to make it more of a woman’s industry—encourage other women to get into the business through mentoring and helping them to be successful in the interviewing process as well as in the work environment.

Don’t be afraid of criticism. In my industry, there’s a lot of public critiquing, and it seems like women often avoid it—they avoid it so much so that it can be difficult to hire them because none of their work is available to review online. I know to ask to see it, but big companies aren’t going to take that extra time.

Understand that men and women think differently. They give and receive feedback differently. It doesn’t mean a man is being cruel when he says, “I wouldn’t have done it that way.” It just means that’s not how you would have said it.

Recognize that you have unconscious biases, too. I do my best to encourage qualified women to interview with my company and with others, but I have, at times, found myself leaning toward hiring a man simply because he is the prototypical developer and is there in front of me interviewing. 

Negotiate. It’s thought that negotiating alone could account for much of the income disparity between men and women. Aside from salary, we also must learn to negotiate with clients and co-workers every day. If you don’t stand up for yourself and your needs, who will?

DesiMcAdam

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