How to Navigate Being the Only Woman On Your Team

Become more comfortable sharing your opinion, asking for help and recognizing the value you bring.
Written by Michael Hines
May 10, 2022Updated: May 10, 2022

In a perfect world, Eliza Fruci, a product manager at Artifact Uprising, and Mary Carrigan, a software engineer II at BillGO, would have no advice to give on navigating being the only woman on a team. Fruci would never have discovered an authentic way to make her voice heard among a chorus of men. Carrigan wouldn’t have had to double down on self-awareness and self-reflection so that she could confidently ask for help from male peers without feeling incompetent or bossy.

We don’t live in a perfect world, though. Fruci and Carrigan have both been the only woman on their team at some point. This situation is all too common in the tech industry, whether you’re a fresh college grad or seasoned leader; a developer or a content writer.

The road to becoming comfortable being the only woman on a team is anything but. That said, Fruci and Carrigan have some advice on how to make the journey less daunting, including how to become confident sharing your opinions, which battles to pick and why mentorship matters.

 

Eliza Fruci
Product Manager • Artifact Uprising

 

There is no shortage of ideas for how women can make themselves seen, heard and ultimately recognized in male-dominated workplaces. But what happens if someone doesn’t feel comfortable leaning in? Eliza Fruci, a product manager at digital photo printing company Artifact Uprising, told Built In she’s amplified her voice on male-dominated teams by focusing on actions that feel authentic.

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

I am naturally more reserved in group settings, so being the only woman on a team makes me even less likely to insert myself into conversations. I am still working to overcome this, but understanding the value I bring has given me more confidence to voice my opinions. I also really value having good relationships with my teammates and feel more comfortable speaking up around people I know well. I try to get to know my teammates in one-on-one meetings and small settings, which translates into higher confidence in larger settings.

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as the only woman on a team, and how has it helped you develop your career since?

I am continuing to learn that I have a unique perspective that is incredibly valuable to my team, especially when it comes to representing women and their needs as consumers. Understanding the value of my perspective has helped validate that I belong and am a critical member of my team.

Focusing on ways to push outside my comfort zone while staying true to myself has contributed to considerable growth in my career.”

 

What’s the most important piece of advice you would offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

Find a way to make your voice heard in a way that is authentic to who you are. Goals that were given to me, such as “aim to speak ‘X’ times per meeting” or “interrupt if you need to,” never felt achievable and often resulted in the opposite of what was intended. Focusing on ways to push outside my comfort zone while staying true to myself has contributed to considerable growth in my career.

 

 

Mary Carrigan
Software Engineer II • BillGO

 

It’s normal to wonder every now and then if a request or comment made to a colleague was taken the wrong way. What’s not normal is parsing the potential subtext of every request for help you make, emotion you express and opinion you share. Mary Carrigan, a software engineer II at B2B bill management and payment company BillGO, has experienced this firsthand as the result of being the only woman on a team. 

Carrigan said BillGO has committed itself to supporting women and increasing representation across the company and has advice on how to stop second-guessing yourself for those in less-supportive environments.

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced being the only woman on a team, and how did you overcome it?

For me, the hardest challenge has been the constant doubt about how I am perceived. Asking for help me makes me worry I’m bossy or incompetent. Having strong opinions makes me worry I’m too hardheaded and stubborn. Showing any sort of emotion makes me worry I’m too emotional. As a young woman, sometimes people expect you to be a certain way; subdued, polite, fragile and submissive. When you contradict that, you constantly question whether others will respect and listen to you. Learning to ignore that doubt and to be self-aware and self-reflective in a healthier way takes a lot of practice and a lot of relearning what it really means to be a woman, an engineer and an employee.

I have learned to be thoughtful about when and how I approach calling out behaviors that cross the line.

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as the only woman on a team, and how has it helped you develop your career since?

When you’re lucky enough to work on a team without outright sexism, the social nuances of being the only woman on the team are a lot more subtle. While not directly attributed to gender differences, it’s common to feel like I have nothing to contribute to a conversation because I don’t have the same interests, background or perspective. However, I had to learn that there’s a lot of different ways to relate and find common ground — and what battles to pick.

Being the only woman on the team leaves me a fair bit more sensitive to gender-related comments. Statements like, “Thanks guys,” with  “… and gals” as an afterthought rubs me the wrong way. As annoying as they might be, they’re rarely ill-intentioned and aren’t worth nitpicking. It’s more powerful for me to respond in discussions about team dynamics or to share my experience to highlight something men might not have ever dealt with. I have learned to be thoughtful about when and how I approach calling out those behaviors that do cross the line. There are likely more allies than you realize.

 

What’s the most important piece of advice you would offer to other women working on male-dominated teams?

Find your mentors and then pay it forward. I have been lucky enough to have a variety of people with so much experience in different areas willing to advocate and coach me. It can be a woman who has dealt with similar experiences, a boss who is attentive to how the team relates to one another or just a co-worker with a second perspective. Look out for other people at work who are underrepresented and do your best to give them a voice and make sure they are supported, too. Someone might really benefit from you reaching out to them just like others did for you. 

There is no single answer to how to get more women and minorities in male-dominated industries. It’s a combination of eliminating discriminatory hiring practices, more role models and success stories for us to look up to, and more support and opportunities in every phase of our education and careers. I’d encourage everyone to get involved in making those opportunities more accessible. In doing so, I believe the road that led me to being a software engineer at BillGO would have been less winding and difficult.

 


 

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