What I Talk About When I Talk About Working With Men
Four years ago, my only coworkers were female. We frequently gathered in a circle during meetings as an entire team, nodding our heads as we talked about the weekly challenges each of us faced, beaming when our colleagues accomplished any-sized feat.

Suddenly, with a career change toward design, I found myself at an all-male agency. After only a few months, it was exhausting to hear, “Are you the only woman at the company?” at client meetings. My colleagues — young, well-intentioned male designers — would laugh nervously or quickly pivot to see how our boss, an older, well-intentioned male designer, would respond. “We’re trying,” he’d say, laughing. 

One time, we browsed our Glassdoor reviews as a small team, scrolling through them in our conference room. Another single female hire (long-gone) had written that our studio was “not a company but a frat house.” My colleagues laughed. My boss said, “I actually really like that.” 

As months passed, I learned certain quirks of working in a culture of dudes: use the single bathroom strategically, put on headphones when they play podcasts featuring anti-feminist rants, stay stone-faced when they nod along to loud music that constantly refers to “bitches.” 

Mainly, I learned to stay quiet. 

I crawled into myself, preparing to be met with skepticism and suspicion and flat-out negativity constantly for everything big (proposals) and small (comments). What else are you supposed to do when there’s no one — and no system — in your corner?

Two months ago, I made the move to a bigger (co-ed) agency. On my third week, a group of coworkers had gathered near my desk, laughing and cracking jokes. After they disbanded, one of the laughing male coworkers messaged me on Slack: 

“not sure if you overheard that, but i swear, i didn’t mean to offend Rebecca -- she always codes in the kitchen so I told her to ‘go back to the kitchen’ and only realized the double meaning after! I’m sorry!”

That message confirmed a lot of things after only a few weeks: that, in this office, women — and their feelings and thoughts matter. My coworker cared enough that I may have overheard a potentially sexist joke to reach out, apologize, and make me feel included. 

No company is perfect when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion — but it feels so good to be a part of a place that takes it seriously. My manager is a woman, our boss is a woman, and I’m surrounded in meetings by women who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions. 

What surprises me most: I’m still not fully acclimated to using my voice here yet. And that’s okay. I’m learning that it takes time to feel comfortable in a new work environment where men provide constructive criticism rather than snark or snickers. There’s no guidebook available (that I’ve seen, at least) to consult in moments of uncertainty or insecurity. But there are women around me who provide the reassurance and validation I need to keep moving forward. 

I feel myself getting louder and louder as I relearn how to speak with confidence and assurance and the idea that I no longer need to feel small, voiceless, incompetent.

Taking up space is a skill — one that lives in your body and reverberates throughout the places you work and live — and soon enough, it’s one that I intend to be very, very good at.
Hannah Weiner is a Digital Producer at Velir in Sommerville, MA. She can be found on social @weiner_hannah or on her website. She’s also working on a music blog for female writers to write about female musicians with a focus on Boston artists. If you’re interested in writing/helping, hit her up!
Art used in this issue: “Semper Vadentes” by Frida Hansen
Desk Lunch is a community for all creative people of marginalized genders.

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