3 Strategies for Navigating Gender Dynamics in the Workplace

We see the topic of gender dynamics in the workplace everywhere today, from Mad Men’s Peggy Olson challenging a male-led industry in the 60s and 70s to nationwide conversations around women in the workplace.

So what exactly are gender dynamics and how do they impact women in the workplace? Gender dynamics refer to the roles men or women traditionally are expected by society to fulfill. However, these traditional roles are shifting as more women are graduating high school, going on to receive four-year college degrees, and entering the workforce.

Research shows that companies do better with women leaders. So how can you, as one woman, learn to navigate gender dynamics in the workplace? Start with what you can control: your actions. We’ve researched the following three strategies that will lay out how you can build a stronger internal network, advocate for professional advancement and nurture future female leaders.

1. Find a workplace sponsor.
To advance in your career, you must understand the importance and role of sponsorship. Through a workplace sponsor, you gain access to stretch assignments and social capital, a valuable source of knowledge and networks that are essential to career development. A workplace sponsor is your behind-the-scenes advocate: someone who knows the quality of your work and is willing to put their reputation on the line to vouch for you. Research if your company has a formal sponsor program in place, and if it does not, take the necessary steps to find a sponsor.

2. Know when to ask for and when to offer help.
Being strategic about when you offer to step up and lend a hand on certain work assignments can cultivate new opportunities for your career. By being thoughtfully helpful, you will create value instead of claiming it. Develop an approach that works for you – make sure that, throughout the process, you’re staying mindful of your free time. Most importantly, be smart in how you respond to the thanks you receive. When you go out of your way for someone, respond to their gratitude with, “You’re welcome, I know you would do the same for me if the situation was reversed.”

3. Find ways to promote your achievements.
If you’re cringing with just the thought of talking about yourself, you’re not alone. Excessive self-promotion can come off as inauthentic and, for women, poses an additional problem. According to a Rutgers study done on self-promotion and women, women who self-promote may suffer from a backlash effect in which self-promotion enhances perceptions of their qualifications, but leads to social censure.

There is a way for women to work around this dilemma. Consider your female colleagues as powerful allies. The key to promoting yourself while regarding social norms is to establish a group of female colleagues who support one another by touting each other’s abilities. Through this structure of advocates, each member of the group champions another woman in the workplace while minimizing unconscious social expectations.

It can be hard to recognize when gender bias is the largest factor in stopping you from succeeding in your career. However, by acknowledging that it is present in the workplace and understanding the steps you can take to counter it, you will feel confident tackling gender dynamics no matter what the situation.

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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.