How to Navigate Being the Only Woman on Your Team: Advice From Local Women in Tech

October 26, 2020

women in austin technology

 

Even in 2020, many women in tech still face the very real possibility of being the only woman on their team.

And being the only woman on a team full of men can sometimes mean having to fight harder to have your voice heard and ideas honored. Laura Beth Durand, a product designer at Shipwell, said she conquered this challenge by reminding herself that her experiences and skills are valuable and worth sharing.

“I actively work hard to quiet my inner critic and know that my opinion and information is just as valid and worth hearing as my coworkers’,” Durand told Built In Austin.

In addition to professional challenges, being the only woman on a team can also be a safety issue. In an interview with Built In Austin, a Dosh employee, who chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of her story, said she faced continued harassment by a male colleague at a former company. For those stuck in a similar situation who can’t escape it due to financial or professional concerns, this Dosh employee recommends becoming more visible within the company.

“The best solution I found was to find new allies in the organization to partner with on tasks and problems and to be more visibly part of other work social groups,” the anonymous Dosh employee told Built In Austin. “When others see you have connections throughout the organization, they are less likely to target you for harassment.”

Being the only woman on a team isn’t easy, and unfortunately, it’s something many will likely experience as the tech industry works to close the employment gender gap. Below, three Austin women tech professionals talk about the topic and offer their advice on how to navigate such a challenging situation.

 

Laura Beth Durand
Product Designer

Being the only woman on a team naturally means that the conversation will be dominated by male voices. Laura Beth Durand, a product designer at Shipwell, said being in this situation can make a woman question the value of her experience and opinions. Beth Durand said she actively fights this feeling by reminding herself that her experience and opinions are just as valuable and important as those of her male colleagues.

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team? What did you do to overcome that challenge?

Overcoming my own sense of value in comparison to my male counterparts. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling like your voice isn’t regarded in the same way as a man’s, but that’s far from the truth. Each of us have our own experiences, and we need to bring them to light without fear of judgment or comparison. I actively work hard to quiet my inner critic and know that my opinion and information is just as valid and worth hearing as my coworkers’.
 

You may be the only woman on your team, but you bring something really powerful to the table.”


What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and/or personal life?

To celebrate your uniqueness and differences. You may be the only woman on your team, but you bring something really powerful to the table. As a woman and a designer, I am deeply connected to those empathetic roots. I want to listen, learn, grow, shine and bring a new lens to my male-dominated team. I can show them a different side of things that maybe they weren’t aware of simply because of my experience as a woman.

 

What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with women both in and out of your company. I try to schedule Zoom lunches with coworkers, have quick Slack chats that aren’t work-related and mentor those who are just starting their careers. It’s always fulfilling to foster those relationships and establish regular female camaraderie.

 

Crystal Wiese
Director of Marketing

Crystal Wiese, director of marketing at QuestionPro, has a career’s worth of experience as the only woman, or one of a few women, on a team. Her advice for women facing a similar challenge is wide-ranging and includes making decisive decisions, using optimism to foster collaboration and always finishing a thought or making a point in full.

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team? What did you do to overcome that challenge?

Pretty much my entire career has been spent in tech, and pretty much that entire time I’ve been the only woman — or one of few — on my team. I have also had the great privilege of being placed in positions of authority at a relatively young age. Sometimes it’s hard to know if the challenges I faced were due in part to my gender, my age or both.

What I’ve found works best in just about any situation is to make sure I am clear about my expectations for the team. Setting clear, measurable goals is a good way to reduce potential miscommunication, misinterpretation or other dynamics that can challenge working relationships.
 

I really do believe that when you are optimistic and positive, people respond better to you.”


What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and/or personal life?

Something I’ve learned from my current CEO is that sometimes the best thing to do is pick up the phone and ask questions. Nobody is going to get upset at the director of marketing calling a customer to gather more information about what our customers want and need. Sometimes I can tie myself in knots worrying about “what if,” but my CEO’s clear direction and support have given me the confidence to just go for it. 

 

What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

First, try not to overthink any situation to a point of “analysis paralysis,” because hesitation can sometimes be perceived as weakness or lack of conviction. Second, ensure that you are able to finish your thought or make your point, even if that means talking over someone. Third, take pride in ownership of your work and ideas but never lose sight of the goal. You need to figure out whether or not the success of the project is more important than your particular idea or approach. If it is, fight for it, but pick your battles.

Fourth, in the words of former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” Perhaps because I am in marketing that resonates with me, but I really do believe that when you are optimistic and positive, people respond better to you, will collaborate with you and are willing to go the extra mile. That makes projects and teams more effective and, ultimately, successful.

 

The anonymous Dosh employee who spoke with Built In Austin explained how she navigated workplace harassment at a former company. However, she also shared tips that are applicable to those who aren’t facing harassment but are feeling the pressures that come with being the only woman on a team. Her advice: Don’t undermine yourself by taking the path of least resistance when it comes to dealing with male colleagues.

 

A Note From Dosh

“We work hard to try and prevent this type of experience by providing clear anti-harassment guidelines and anti-retaliation protocols, which are in our employee handbook that every team member must sign. We take this very seriously and hope this story helps other Austin companies continue to remain focused on creating safe working environments for everyone.”

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team? What did you do to overcome that challenge?

I was harassed by colleagues at another organization. At that time, I did not feel comfortable calling it that. I was trying to cope and just get through it, but in retrospect, that’s definitely what it was. I had to find creative ways to deal with the harassment, as the company did not have stated policies against it and no clear paths for a resolution that would protect me from harm. I did not have a trusted female or another executive to go to for help. I needed to keep the job — the economy was in a downturn and I had tenure — and I did not want to put my own career and financial health at risk for someone else’s bad behavior.

As such, I did not enter any formal complaint. In one case, I found being very direct with the person shut down the unwanted communication, and in another case, I had to find ways to create more distance between myself and the person to the point of being careful about the hours I worked and not staying late. The best solution I found was to find new allies in the organization to partner with on tasks and problems and to be more visibly part of other work social groups. When others see you have connections throughout the organization, they are less likely to target you for harassment. I am happy to say that I left that company as soon as the economy got better. 
 

Say ‘yes’ to new opportunities and don’t be afraid to fail.”


What’s the most important lesson you learned from being the only woman on a team, and how have you continued to apply that lesson in your professional and/or personal life?

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of being deferential with male colleagues in meetings and day-to-day work. That’s the path of least resistance, but taking it often comes at the expense of being as effective as possible and can undermine your confidence and impactfulness and limit future opportunities. My greatest piece of advice is to stay focused and embrace disagreement where appropriate to help others better understand problems or possible solutions, and model respectful listening with all colleagues when they speak. Say “yes” to new opportunities and don’t be afraid to fail. At home, I teach my children to practice respectful communication but also to express confidence in their abilities, engage in healthy risk-taking and push back on things that compromise their core principles.

 

What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

Model the behavior you want to see from your male colleagues. In communications, be inclusive, professional and respectful. If you need more support, reach out informally to ask for it and establish a rapport with high-integrity colleagues in leadership as well as individual contributors. Regularly show gratitude for others’ work and say “thank you.” Stand up for yourself when you need to and don’t be afraid to be direct when it’s called for. That creates healthy boundaries and grows confidence. Most of all, seek out employers that explicitly value diversity and inclusion.

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