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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Group dynamics with men and women

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Author Topic: Group dynamics with men and women
Member # 39969

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I work on a team of software developers (4 guys and 1 girl), and when we meet, I noticed that the one female developer is sort of left out of the group conversations. Part of the reason is that the rest of us are close friends, but I'm afraid that the other reason is probably that she's a female, and we are just ignoring her. She hasn't said anything to us, but I'm old enough to know that plenty of women can feel marginalized in these types of situations even if they don't speak up.

Anyways, I wanted to know: for other women who have felt marginalized in a group, could you talk about your experiences (in what ways did you feel marginalized?), and what things you think the team members could have done better.


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Hi Bobby,

I hope other folk will chip in and tell you about their experiences, because you can't beat "real-world" stuff.

In addition, I have some technical knowledge around language/communication and gender, and from a feminist perspective, too [Smile] So I can maybe throw out some stuff and see if you think it might be useful. I'd like to bring into the mix that there are also linguistic reasons for isolation in situations like the one you describe.

Research repeatedly shows that in mixed-gender conversations, women get less turns speaking, shorter turns, and are interrupted more often than men. In people's perceptions, when people think that the women are speaking in equal amounts to the men, they are actually speaking less; when they really are speaking an equal amount, everyone, including the women, believes that they are speaking more than the men.

Generally, men and women use language, respond to language, and participate in conversations, differently. NB no.1: people who are not "men" and "women", research is extremely sparse about, partly because a lot of researchers are not that enlightened, and partly because it's so much harder to know how to classify the results. I'm aware there's a gaping hole in what I'm talking about here, but it's the best I have at the moment, though I'm trying to dig into what little there is available. NB no.2: before anyone screams "gender essentialism!!" at me, overall norms of behaviour do not predict what any one individual is actually like, and I'd like to state for the record that I don't believe that "men talk like this and women talk like that because that's how they are", but that language is socialised and learned behaviour like any other.

For "a woman, generally" rather than "this particular woman", it's possible that the group of men is actually holding conversations in ways that are less familiar and less natural to her. Generally, an all-male group conversation is more likely to operate in a kind of one-up-manship way, almost competing to tell the best joke or the best anecdote, to show the most superior knowledge on a particular topic. An all-woman group is more likely to be emphasising their shared knowledge and experiences. Conversation style is likely to be different: men are more likely to hold uninterrupted monologues, and for an interruption to be interpreted and meant as a competitive floor-stealer; women are more likely to interrupt to support and enlarge the point, and interruptions are less often meant, perceived and experienced as floor-stealing, because it's easier for the conversation to come back round to the original speaker for her to finish, as it hasn't been taken away and carried off on another tack in the meantime. Women are also more likely to actively pursue someone else's input and participation, and in mixed groups, less likely to give their own unasked.

So: how can men include women in conversations better? Directly ask for her opinion or for her own contribution. Don't be pushy about it, just make clear that there is a space for her to talk if she chooses, and shut up any man who immediately tries to jump in that space (at least one usually does). Repeat this, don't just give one chance. Don't interrupt her before she's even finished one sentence, and shut up any man who does. When she starts talking, she might only say one brief sentence: chances are that that is very far from all she has to say, so explore if she has any more she wants to add. (Often, "mhm?" will suffice; a brief comment looking to enlarge on things is good - if you have to breathe, it's too long.) Engage with what she says - don't pass over it as though it was the window rattling. Don't attack what she says (because most women are not as familiar with that conversational style as most men, and will be extremely put off saying anything else); engage with it - that is, explore the ideas collaboratively, rather than making her defend and justify them. Be vaguely aware while conversations are happening, and if she looks like she wants to say something, create that space.

The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

Posts: 1786 | From: Europe | Registered: Sep 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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Hmm, interesting! I think this relates too to things like the difference in pay rates between what researchers call "men" and "women", and the possible "glass ceiling" in organisations where not many "women" get to high management positions.

Things can never be totally equal, but there are good things about encouraging those who don't normally get to say much to have their say. I think any difference in background can have an impact, and multiple differences can accentuate difficulties.

Anyway, back to topic, and the target demographic (it can be hard to get away from categories, can't it? [Smile] ).

[ 11-10-2011, 07:00 AM: Message edited by: WesLuck ]

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Member # 33376

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i remember being the only girl in the lowest set in maths at primary school. i was largely ignored and when i talked, it seemed (and it probably was) that they weren't listening to anything i said, nor did they care. they probably wished i would shut up when i contributed because they kept interrupting me. thats generally my experience
Posts: 94 | From: london | Registered: Apr 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
thumb tack
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I worked in a male dominated workplace for about 6 years. At first I didn't see that I was in a position of disadvantage, but the longer I had been in it, the more I realized that professionally and socially I was lagging behind.

I was usually the only girl in my workplace, among 4 to 12 men. One of the biggest challenges for me was actually not in the workplace, but outside of it. You said that you and the three other guys are close friends. That time you spend together outside of work is a really big part of having a sense of belonging to the group. For me, although I hung out with the guys outside of work, they always found ways (intentionally or not, I cant say) of excluding me by the activities they did or the conversations they had. For example, they would go to rowdy bars to watch fights or go to strip clubs (both of which are activities that I am really not interested in doing). Or they would have boys nights and camping trips where I was overtly excluded (when you're the only girl around, a boys night amounts to a 'everone but you' night).

As a girl in those situations, you can be very sure that I would never complain about it. The last thing a lone girl in a group guys wants to be labelled as is 'whiny', and a lot of times, just voicing that you don't really want to go to a strip club, could we do something else, is enough to get you that label. And it sticks, believe me. The other thing that might happen in that situation is that the plans DO change, but then I would be made to feel like they were bending over backwards to accomodate me. Also not a great feeling.

So to echo Redskies, something as simple as being aware of all that stuff and trying to be a bit more inclusive (without making a big deal out of it) can go a long way.

Professionally, I just plain got passed up for promotions all the time. After about a year and a half of training the new guy and then watching him move ahead of me, I went to speak to my boss. He told me two things: 1- he thought I was happy in my crappy, low-status position, 2- the boys always threatened to quit if they didn't move up fast enough. So I threatened to quit, he got the message, and I got a raise and a promotion.

I'm not sure if you are in a supervisory position over this woman or not, but if you are not, there are still things you can do to alleviate this kind of 'getting stuck'. For example, you could just not assume she likes doing something just because a)she's has done it before, or b)thats what a lot of girls do who work in your field. I'm not sure if this is possible, but you could always try to set up a kind of task rotation where evryone gets a chance to do everything.

Anyways, those were my two cents.

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thumb tack
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(by the way, kuddos to you for noticing it and trying to fix it - I would say that alone is half the battle [Smile]
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moonlight bouncing off water
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Originally posted by thumb tack:
(by the way, kuddos to you for noticing it and trying to fix it - I would say that alone is half the battle [Smile]

Very much agreed. I don't have much to add on this as I tend to be very aggressive about getting my point across in any context and often have to watch to make sure I'm not monopolizing the conversation.

On a related, but non-professional note, I often get lumped into the "female" group in my extended family. When I go to visit my family "us girls" go and shop or do something equally perceived as "female". The "males" go watch hockey or play golf. I find it infuriating because I would MUCH rather play golf than shop, but that is how things remain.

I guess I would say, don't lump her into any group in your mind (and certainly not in actuality either) simply because of her gender. Absolute kudos to you though on noticing it.


I am ME and that is the only label I need.

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I realize this post is a little old, but it brings up an issue that bothers me a fair amount: calling adult women "girls". I realize plenty of women don't mind being called girls and may like being called that, and it is pretty common to refer to young women as girls. However I find it demeaning that a, say, 25 year old woman is often called a girl, but a 25 year old man is not usually called a boy (well, he might be, sometimes people refer to "boys night out" or "good ol' boys", but I have observed it is less common). He is often called a guy, but a 75 year old man can also be called a guy ("an older guy"), while I have never heard of a 75 year old woman being called a girl. I notice you referred to the female developer as a girl, but you didn't call the male developers boys. I don't want to sound like I'm coming down hard on you BobbyC because I'm sure you didn't mean to offend anyone by your choice of words. However it is quite possible that even simple issues of word choice when referring to this female developer, or women in general, could make her feel marginalized.
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thumb tack
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Member # 60502

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coralee, I so agree. It seems like a small thing, but being constantly referred to as a child is kind of disempowering... That said, I re-read my post and saw that I did that myself several times... oh boy! (no pun intended!)
Posts: 126 | From: Canada | Registered: Mar 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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