The Only Man in the Room
As a straight, white, cis-gendered male, I tend to be in the majority.
This goes double in most work situations.
However, thanks to a recent work-related project, I had the chance to be a fish out of water. Over the past few months, I’ve been on a project where, during most days, I was the only man in the room.
As someone who recently joined the world of consulting, this is pretty rare. In most cases and in most rooms, I’m surrounded by salt-and-peppered white guys in suits. If you’re a visual person, go to any stock photo website and type in “business” — you’ll see what I mean.
After reflecting on this time, I noticed a few common thoughts that went through my head during most days:
I was frustrated
Even though most of the rooms we worked in were filled with woman, these women still had to answer to and work under men. Many conversations were based around how to sell a certain point to their bosses (most of whom were older, white men) because they didn’t have time or didn’t consider being in the room a priority.
I was quieter than usual
This probably stems from not wanting to perpetuate the traditional male stereotype in business (a loud, alpha male that thinks he knows everything). In some ways, I probably overcorrected and should’ve led a few more conversations that fell well within my wheelhouse.
I felt out of place
Since this specific project was related to babies and pregnancy, most of the women in the room had an automatic point of connection (similar stories from those that had already had babies). I can imagine most women are all too familiar with this sort of alienation at work.
I felt more connected
At the beginning of every day and meeting, we made it a habit to share one word that described how we were feeling and at the end of every day and meeting, we shared one thing we were going to do for self-care. How often do you think this happens in a room filled with men? *crickets*
I was more aware of the words coming out of my mouth
When you’re talking to a room filled with women, you start to notice how out of place terms like “What do you guys think?” are. It was a much-needed reminder of how male-dominated even our day-to-day language is.
I learned more about the people around me
It’s no secret that many men put on a facade, especially at work. We’re conditioned to always act like we have the answer and we tend to reward the loudest, most authoritative person in the room. During these past few months, I’ve witnessed some of the most vulnerable moments in my career, and I can’t help but attribute this to the women who were around me.
I learned more about myself
When I think back to the moments in my life where I’ve gained more self-awareness, they usually share one thing: I was alone in a foreign place. From traveling abroad on my own to talking to a room filled with people I’ve never met, these experiences gave me a swift kick in the pants by challenging my assumptions. I felt a similar “productive friction” while working on this all-female team.
I felt more heard
It’s no secret that, in general, women are better listeners than men. There are even scientific studies that back this up. I’ve never really given this much thought until I had female teammates and clients continuously asking me, “Billy, what do you think?” Not only that, they actually waited for and acknowledged my response!
Not only has this work been some of the most meaningful in my life — I’ve also been lucky enough to be on a team that could have easily made me feel unwelcome or unwanted. These women have shown me how to tackle big problems with a deadly combination of finesse and ruthless precision.