Dealing with Office Gender Dynamics

Column by Janine Popick, "Female CEOs"
June 19, 2009

It doesn’t matter if you’re in fashion or you’re in law, working in an environment where there are a lot of women can be either really fun, or an incredible challenge.

In the early years at my company VerticalResponse, we used to have a lot of women in the office, though now we’ve evened out for the most part. One thing’s for sure, where there were a lot of women, there are some recurring ‘characters;’ that pop up over and over again. Here are some of the personas we’ve experienced, that you might identify with within your own company:

  • Copycat Carrie - One woman would admire a pair of shoes on her co-worker. Two days later, she’d come in wearing the same shoes, and her co-worker would be shocked that she hadn’t asked permission to buy them! It started some real gossip around the office.
  • Let It Hang Out Hillary – Much to the chagrin of HR, I actually once had to send an email to the girls to "cover their assets." Why? Because a few (of the few) men that worked for me were spending a bit too much time at the desk of one particular girl.
  • Gabby Gabrielle - We had a woman who got on the phone every day for hours with her relatives discussing the family drama of the day. And it wasn’t a quiet conversation either. Everyone in the office knew everything that was going on.
  • Shoppin’ Sally - There is a designer hand-me-down store right on the corner near us and many of the girls go over and see what the newest selections are. Since everyone knows everyone else’s size, they come back with suggestions for their “fella” co-workers. If anyone comes back carrying a shopping bag, there would be a mini fashion show.

So I’ve had some experience working with a lot of women, but I wanted some more stories and I knew just the place to go; a successful company called Splendora run by a wonderful CEO Gina Pell. They happen to have a pretty successful fashion blog and as a result have a lot of women who work there.

She told me that she thinks it has been more of a plus than a minus. According to Gina, "They all have the same work ethic, which is "work 'til the death!"" She went on to say that women who worked for her work twice as hard and twice as long as any of the men they hired. I’m sure it also has something to do with the passion of the industry that these women serve as well.

She does agree there is a downside: if there are sensitive women then there surely are feelings to be dealt with, but she’s been able to hire or cultivate people like her: tough as nails who can dish out and take critical feedback if necessary. Gina says the key to working in an all woman office is to weed out the sensitive and/or passive aggressive ones. One bad apple can turn the rest into a gossiping bunch of Bettys. Fair minded, thick skinned, cheerful straight shooters are the way to go, but that applies to men too.

The one thing I thought was brilliant is she put out the "no tears policy" to all of her hires since Gina has no time for criers and doesn’t believe it belongs in the workplace. The best business she finds is one that doesn't involve hurt feelings. I couldn’t agree more.

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