Inclusion in the Workplace: Alone In The Boys Club Part 1

  • 4 min read

A few weeks ago, I swore to do my best to use my voice to expose the inequities present in tech and tech sales for marginalized people. This week’s piece begins a two-part series to promote inclusion in the workplace. I will cover some of the different “onlys” (i.e. the different identities that I, and others, wear which set us apart and prevent us from getting into the “boys’ club”) I’ve experienced.

I know that you can’t truly separate these different parts of yourself (hello, intersectionality!). But if you’re in my shoes, I want to give you some comfort. If you’re not, I want to give you some ideas on how to make us feel more included. 

Just the other day, I was talking with a couple of friends, both of whom are women in tech, about our experiences working in male-dominated fields. All of us had several stories about the times we tried to be the “cool girl.” We made jokes at the expense of ourselves. We laughed and cringed at the actions we took to make sure our male colleagues knew we were “cool with it.”

What is it that is driving us, three young women, to these extremes? What is making us want to be liked by the very people who harassed us? Or the people who made us feel so uncomfortable we’d rather call in sick for almost a week than go into work?

We, the lone women on teams of mostly male co-workers, are all exhausted from taking up this fight on our own and we need your help.

5 Steps Towards Achieving Inclusion in the Workplace

It can be easy to feel like you want to help but not know where to start. Here’s a list of ways you can start carrying some of the burdens with us and achieve inclusion in the workplace:

1. Be Cognizant of Your Internal Bias.

Inclusion in the Workplace Starts with Acknowledging Implicit Bias


You might feel inclined to talk louder, interrupt us mid-sentence, or speak at the same time. But slow down, take a breath, and open your ears instead of your mouth.

2. Don’t shoot down others’ ideas, especially with words like “stupid” or “dumb.”

This creates a hostile environment that discourages us from speaking up. We often feel like we can’t afford to be viewed as any less than perfect (especially for women of color, trans women, and queer women, or any combination thereof), so if we see other people’s suggestions being taken down, it can send the wrong message.

3. Trust That We Know What We’re Doing.

Check your implicit bias if we are doing something differently than how you would’ve done it and you find yourself doubting our decision. If you have a serious concern, bring it up privately. Also, come prepared with concrete evidence so we can discuss action items.

4. Always Question Yourself.

In an interview with NPR, Alexis McGill Johnson, the executive director of the Perception Institute, defined implicit bias as “our brains’ automatic processing of negative stereotypes that have become embedded in our brains over time about particular groups of people oftentimes without our conscious awareness.”

It’s important to be aware of these biases so we can counter the stereotypes and create inclusion in the workplace.

For example, just because I present as straight doesn’t mean I like boys. And if you’re having a conversation about cars or motorcycles, don’t forget to include me even though I’m a girl!

5. I Cannot Reiterate How Important Active Listening Is.

According to MindTools, active listening is when you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that are being said but more importantly, the complete message being communicated. Show respect and save time instead of missing our point entirely or asking us to repeat things we’ve already told you. Inclusion in the workplace starts with mutual respect.

As a queer cis-gendered woman of color, I’ve never looked around a room and thought, “Wow, I feel like I should be here.”

Oftentimes, there’s no one else in the room who looks like you, making the big decisions. This makes it impossible to imagine how your future looks. 

But that doesn’t mean we stop trying to create that image. Being upset, hurt, tired, optimistic, and pessimistic drives us to keep fighting to create a community. The community we need to survive the loneliness of the “boys club” we live in and work in.

And if we work together, I’m confident we will not only survive but we’ll all eventually learn to thrive.

To reference Ellen Pao once more,

“It’s hard for people to understand other people, but it’s easy if you have shared experiences, and that’s where a lot of these complexities of discrimination come from.”

So maybe next time, listen instead of opening your mouth. We’ll find a way to build a new club where everyone has a space that’s theirs, together.

Disclaimer: This piece is unrelated to my time at Crunchbase. These are scenarios and situations I’ve encountered at other places I’ve worked. And going along that point, this isn’t about the companies themselves. A company can come from the best place, do everything right, and still have stuff like this happen. We are dealing with a systemic cultural problem that pervades teams across almost all industries.

  • Originally published June 27, 2018