Succeeding in any male-dominated field doesn’t mean having to play as a man would.
It helps to understand the game the men are playing and excel at it. And since the typical male-dominated workplace is one where conflict is a way of establishing hierarchy, to succeed women can build capacity for coming out on top with collaboration and trust. Befriending the dragon, instead of trying to slay it.
What does this mean in real terms?
Think of a moment where you were deliberately challenged with a question by a male colleague and, maddeningly, you couldn’t answer despite knowing the answer. That’s what I mean by conflict – the subtle dominance game that’s in play all the time.
And that momentary lapse when we are rooted silently to the spot unable to speak, or nodding yes when we really want to say no? That’s a moment one of my teachers calls the “Freeze” – a neurobiological state all women are intimately familiar with. She advocates using a question to get past this moment. “Did you really just ask me___” is one my personal favorites. There’s also Chris Voss’ excellent “mirroring” technique: using what he calls the late night FM DJ voice to repeat the last three words the challenger said, which never fails to get the other person talking again. Both techniques utilize the use of language as a way to break the fight-or-flight response of the Freeze and bring the prefrontal cortex – the brain’s executive functions – back online.
These are in-the moment tricks to manage conflict, but women can also up their capacity for the longer-term, more drawn out conflicts of office politics.
This is where our inner guidance systems come into their own: by being able to accurately read the longer plays we gain an advantage.
And the biggest piece of this part of the puzzle is women knowing their own long game: the values they are aligned with, the work that gives them a state of flow and how they find meaning in their work. The inner guidance system is the best compass for finding these. A good start is the obituary exercise, which is exactly what it sounds like: writing one’s obituary, for the life *we wish we could live*. This exercise always highlights and surprises the writer with insights into what the long game actually should be. And knowing one’s long game gives one the capacity to weather any storm along the way.
These are three skills which I believe all women need, and which are largely overlooked in the STEM education path.
In my next articles we’ll consider a case study of what happens when these skills are learned and put to practical use.