Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Woman Working in a Man’s World: 10 Lessons I Learned in the U. S. Navy

USS Flint (AE-32), WESTPAC '94
I spent much of my navy career in the extreme minority—as the only woman in a helicopter squadron, as one of two women on a ship with a crew of five hundred, as one of four women in a battle group numbering seven thousand.
I was in a unique situation, sure, but I learned some valuable things about how to integrate into a male dominated work environment, things that have also served me well since—while working in corporate America, as a small business owner, as a parent.
Do I have it wired? No, I don’t presume to have this figured out. If you’re a woman stepping into a work environment that happens to be dominated by men, you can thrive with a variety of approaches. But you can hinder your progress in just as many ways. Hopefully, I can help you avoid some of those pitfalls by offering the benefit of my experiences.

So here you go, ten lessons I learned in the U. S. Navy, advice for women in a male dominated work environment.

1. Be competent. Know your job. Do your job. 

2. Be physically active. It shows in how you carry yourself. How you address a division. How you sit in a meeting. Your posture as you lecture in front of hundreds. If you feel strong physically, you’ll harbor a quiet confidence that others will sense. And it goes without saying that not only is physical activity good for your health, but it also jostles a muddy brain, allowing for clearer thinking. By the way, this doesn’t mean you need to become an ultra-marathoner. You can garden, walk, do yoga, swim. It can be anything. Just do something.

3. Be yourself. Be genuine. You can spot a fake façade a mile away. No need for the tough guy act. And don’t try to be “one of the boys.” I’ve seen this backfire far too many times. Please, just don’t.

4. You’re always on duty, even when you’re off duty. Should you let yourself go, doin’ the wild thing, at the company’s annual holiday party? I would beg you not to. A man can get away with it. A woman can’t. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is. Mind your alcohol. Mind your manners.

5. Pick your battles. Be reasonable. Think big picture.

6. Be kind. I think women confuse this with being seen as soft or not tough enough. I disagree. In fact, kindness can be disarming. A smile, a compliment, a question as to the health of a co-worker’s spouse. These are often unexpected, but mostly appreciated and remembered. As long as you can back it up with competency, you’re good.

7. Support the sisterhood. Nothing is so disturbing as a woman stepping over another for her own gain. Come on, girls. We have to have each other’s backs.

8. Mind your tongue. That is, don’t gossip. It erodes trust. It’s catty. It’s rude. You know the rule. If you can’t say something nice . . . 

9. Sleep on it. Avoid the rash decision. A night of sleep will do wonders for clarity in thinking, allowing for an unemotional, objective look at your choices. Having said this, sometimes, an instant decision is required. An engine fails in your aircraft and you have to react now. In cases like this, I refer to point number one. If you’re competent—trained, prepared—you’ll make the correct decision. However, most of the time, you have some breathing room, so use it.

10. Above all else, the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would have them treat you.

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