‘My Office Is Full Of Male Banter – I Don’t Want To Join In, But How Else Do I Connect With My Team?’

'My boyfriend has suggested that I just join in with it - but why should I?'

Winnig at work

by Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob |

In a world of inspirational memes and #girlpost Instagram posts, it’s easy to forget that we all get stuck at work, or feel like we can’t find a way forward at times. Sue Unerman is the Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom and Kathryn Jacob OBE is the Chief Executive at Pearl and Dean. Together they wrote The Glass Wall: Success Strategies For Women At Work And Businesses That Mean Business. Each week answer your work questions with pragmatic, honest advice that’s proven to work…

Q: I work in a team that is made up mostly of men. There seems to be a constant background of rugby comments, banter and discussion. My boyfriend has suggested that I just join in with it but why should I? And how else do I connect with my team?

SU: We have an example in our book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, where a woman fails to get her idea for a new way of working across to her boss until she re-expresses it using a sporting analogy. This proves to be a very successful move for her, but we don’t think that the point of this story is about sport. It is about using language that others can easily understand to communicate.

KJ: Is this bothering you? Does it make you feel excluded? Or do you just see it as a waste of time? Your answer to this will determine your approach. If you feel that it is getting in the way of work, then you might want to ease yourself around the situation. One woman we spoke to now joins her Monday morning catch up phone calls late as she doesn’t want to sit through ten or fifteen minutes of premier league chat. She’s been in her company a while and so feels comfortable doing this, and it provides a great focus on achieving the agenda points in the remaining 45 minutes.

SU: However this obviously can mean that you are sidelined and if you feel excluded anyway, this can make it worse. You do need to be secure in your place in the team to swerve the discussions altogether. Furthermore I am not sure that this is necessarily useful, because a lot of the team dynamic is formed during the more sociable part of the interactions in a regular meeting or forum.

But as I said, this isn’t about football or rugby – it’s about finding common language to communicate with each other. Can you find other (not work related) points of common ground that you can lead the conversation onto during that early portion of the meeting? Whether it's a mutual love of Game Of Thrones, or cooking or whatever. Then you can call a halt to the discussions in order to get on with the work, which puts you in a leadership role.

KJ: If you look at lots of social work situations we instinctively seek our tribe. We try to find a way to establish a connection. Rugby is the area where lots of men feel they can establish bonds. And also express emotion, perhaps the only area where they can express emotion at work according to some people. Looking at it this way, you can understand the short hand that the sport creates instead of feeling antagonistic towards it. But again, this is about finding passion points you can connect with your team on, rather than the fact that in this instance it’s about sport.

SU: You of course don’t need to change your personality or pretend that you are someone that you are not in order to succeed at work. In fact doing so places extraordinary levels of stress on people’s shoulders and we would never advocate it. Making an effort to join in a bit though, and giving your point of view, should be welcomed. If it really isn’t, and if you feel that if you don’t pretend to be who you are not, then this might not be the right place for you. We feel very strongly that work places that are cult like in the need to have everyone be exactly the same, whether that’s rugby fan crazy or cycling or drinking or even bleached highlights and fake tan-tastic, aren’t going to be creative environments or those with a growth mindset. Belonging in the workplace is important. You need to feel welcomed, but you should not have to change yourself or conform to a pattern of behaviour that is alien to you.

KJ: As Sue and I always say, always be true to yourself and your values. A little flexibility goes a long way. You don’t have to completely conform a group mentality (work after all is not a religious cult), but any effort to be inclusive and included is always welcome. Another story in our book, is about a woman who wasn’t very good in the mornings and who expected all of her colleagues to not talk to her pre-10:30am. This became a huge burden on her workmates as over an hour of their productive time was put on hold because of this quirk. Eventually she realised that she needed to be adaptable, and even mindful of the effect her behaviour had on others.

SU: Look your team mates are neither your friends necessarily or your family. You probably haven’t chosen them. You do need to spend quite a lot of your day with them though. Find a way to communicate if you can.

Sue and Kathryn’s book The Glass Wall, Success Strategies For Women At Work And Businesses That Mean Business is available from Amazon.

Have you got a question you’d like Sue and Kathryn to answer? Email your questions to feedback@graziamagazine.co.uk. Please note, we will be unable to respond to every single question we receive, and will not be able to respond to any questions personally

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