What Can We Learn From All-Female Workplaces?

Article by Ella White – OggaDoon

 At OggaDoon, we’re aware that an all-female space can be as daunting to a man as an all-male space can be to a woman, although admittedly in very different ways. Because of this, female founders, like ours, are faced with finding ways of being inclusive to men, assuring them that women in the workplace are not as scary as they seem, and creating processes to help them feel comfortable in a new environment. However, we also feel that there are a number of lessons to be learned from women-led workplaces, that will apply to a range of companies and industries.

Over the past few years the gender pay gap, a lack of executive opportunities, and harassment in the workplace have been brought to light as just some of the numerous issues faced by working women in the UK and globally. There’s a lot still to be done to tackle these issues, their place in mainstream conversation is a good start, and we know that our friends at Gapsquare are using tech to help companies move forward, but we’ve learnt, that when women build their own workplaces, new and unforeseen problems, as well as opportunities, arise.

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The challenges for men in all-female environments

There are so few all-female spaces that men have access to, that when they encounter one, the social rules don’t seem to have been written yet. There’s concern over causing offence, perhaps because of the way that feminism is portrayed in the media, and a growing awareness of ‘mansplaining’, the absolute bugbear of many offices, which in a previously all-female environment simply didn’t exist. In our experience, it seems possible that men, when viewing the Team page on a website of a potential employer, may be backing out of applying to jobs when they realise they would be joining an all-female team.

Are we subconsciously building segregated workplaces?

Many women in developed countries may not ever have considered themselves as limited by gender, but subconsciously, it’s likely that they are. Research shows that women are more likely to under-apply for roles, only feeling they are qualified if they tick every box on a job description, whilst men will apply for positions where they feel they meet just 60% of the requirements (and in some cases, will even apply for ‘women only’ positions). Not only can this slow career growth for women, but it further tips the workplace hierarchy in men’s favour.

Another glaring issue is that men may believe some jobs are below them, and feel inclined to managerial positions to avoid these roles. Equally, it seems that creative roles tend to attract a larger audience of women, further enhancing workplace segregation. At OggaDoon, there’s not much we can immediately do about the socialisation of men and women which leads to this confidence gap, but we are doing what we can to promote male applications,including using masculine phrasing and keywords in our recruitment process – which admittedly brings up a different challenge of why ‘manager’ and ‘drive’ are considered masculine in the first place.

The Benefits of Joining a Woman-led Team

A flexible approach to the workplace

Whilst it’s easy to empathise with anyone entering an environment where they feel like an outsider, there are often so many benefits to working in female-led environments that are not always afforded to men. One strong example of this is flexible working.

At OggaDoon, we work on a flexible basis both in terms of location (home or office space) and around hours that suit our commitments and lifestyles. This is something that women are more used to experiencing – although not always without an outside comment – due to maternity leave, childcare, and what has come to be known as ‘women’s issues’ (God forbid we should ever publicly discuss our periods).

OggaDoon’s Creative Content Manager, Emily Perkins, shared her thoughts on flexible working, and why it is a no-brainer for all employees, regardless of gender:

“People request flexible working for a huge number of reasons: the commute, childcare, care of a parent, passion projects, volunteering, second jobs, circadian rhythms… I certainly found it difficult requesting flexible working in a mixed-gender company because I was conscious that, as I didn’t have children, I didn’t fit the stereotype. I’m fortunate now to work in a company where flexible working is standard practice for every team member.”

Having healthy conversations about mental health

An issue faced by many women in work environments, gender-balanced or not, is imposter syndrome, feeling as though they have not earned the right, or do not deserve to be, in the fortunate position they’ve landed, and feel as though this is a fluke they are about to be called out on at any moment. But it can’t only be women who feel that way? As younger generations of men who have been raised in a more equal and respectful society join the workforce, this kind of anxiety is no longer an exclusively female problem.

It’s only in the last few years that we have started to move away from gendered emotions, and even now phrases like ‘real men don’t cry’ and ‘throw like a girl’ are still used to gender a particularly emotional approach to a challenge. It’s possible that women often feel imposter syndrome because they are isolated in their role and so do not see others like them succeeding in parallel with them, whether that’s because of industry, such as engineering, or role, such as C-Suite roles. But that doesn’t mean that men don’t experience imposter syndrome, and it’s likely that talking more openly about this fear we have about not performing could enable many people to have better conversations about mental health at work. An all-female workplace, in our experience, is much more likely to open up conversations around these issues, and doing so ultimately brings the team closer and creates happier employees.

Making an all-female environment inclusive

Having recently hired our first ever male employee, we are curious and excited to see the ways we will evolve and adapt – if we need to at all. There’s something to be said for developing a practice of developing inclusive topics of conversation at work, just as conversations can be exclusionary in male environments, we’re aware that not everything is a comfortable topic for a man at work.  As our Creative Content Manager put it, self-awareness should be key when working to make a whole team feel comfortable:

“I’ve moved from a company that was split by gender, and so conversations about menstruation, children, and other ‘women’s topics’ were confined to small same-gender groups, to my current company, which is currently all women. I have found it very freeing to discuss these things without feeling like they are ‘dirty’ feminine topics. With a man about to join the team, I instinctively wondered whether we will self-censure (consciously or unconsciously), and to be honest, I think we probably will – but not because I feel forced to, more because I would not want him to be uncomfortable!”

Can every company work this way?

As a smaller company, we feel that OggaDoon has an advantage over larger, more slow-moving firms. If we notice a way to encourage better diversity, we can make that change instantly. We don’t have a Board to reference, or a group of Directors to placate. Most importantly (I think), we have a woman at the top: Caroline Macdonald founded the company in 2012, and has grown OggaDoon rapidly over the last six years, and so each one of us has her example to strive for. Larger companies make decisions by committees; we make decisions by lunchtime.

The issue of gender equality swings both ways, and whilst sexism, misogyny, and gender biases are typically problems faced by women, it’s important to consider the effects in reverse. Though undoubtedly less extreme, there are many ways that gender-exclusive environments can be intimidating, and even hostile, and it is the responsibility of every team member to keep the workplace inclusive. At OggaDoon, however, we not only believe that a lot can be learned from all-female workplaces, we believe that more inclusive spaces, for both genders, will ultimately result in fairer workplaces for all.


About OggaDoon:

OggaDoon is based on the simple idea that clever comms gets you reach and revenue. They specialise in high impact campaigns that use a nimble and fresh approach to PR, brand and media. Oggadoon works with businesses that have passion and purpose, and who want to find clever ways to reach their audience, increase their revenue.