The three phrases I hear too often. Part 1 ‘I prefer working with men’

Last was a big week for women in FinTech. Hotwire ran its first ‘F in FinTech’ event celebrating women in this industry and Innovate Finance released its annual Women in FinTech Power List. During last week I heard three phrases that I hear all the time – from men and women – and I wanted to deconstruct them to explain why I find them all so problematic. I plan on writing three blogs dedicated to each phrase.

First up: ‘I prefer working with men’ 

A variation on this theme was brought up at the end of the F in FinTech event at Hotwire’s offices. It is often women who bring this up. Whether they are blunt and actually say the phrase ‘I prefer working with men‘ or ‘I find men more fun to work with’ or they present a more impassioned complaint on why they don’t experience satisfactory levels of of encouragement and mentoring from more senior women in the industry — all of this feeds into the myth than women ‘as a group’ don’t make good leaders and don’t support other women.

Let me explain my main problem with this phrase. If you are a woman who has said ‘I prefer working with men‘ where do you see yourself in this scenario?

Are you saying that the general public should be wary of working with you…because you are a woman?

Are you saying that you alone, are the only woman in your social and professional circle with the emotional maturity and professional qualifications to work well with others?

Do you harbour any ambitions to run your own team or start your own business or even get paid a decent salary for your work? If so, are you actually advocating that both men and women should pause before deciding whether they would want to work with you … because you have a vagina?

Women are 50% of the global population. We come in all different shapes, sizes, colours and ways of working – just like men. I have worked with plenty of men whom you couldn’t pay me enough to work with again – men who are bullies, men who gaslight, (men who store hard core pornography on the shared server). Does that mean I prefer ‘not to work with men‘? Of course not. I have worked with many men who have championing me, mentored me and who I would take a pay cut to work with again.

The first woman I ever worked with in a professional job was not a pleasant experience. I was a young 22 year old reporter and her criticisms where not helpful or constructive. They were bullying and hurtful. Let me offer you an example ‘Did they offer English as a class in your high school – were you awake when it was offered?‘ How she thought that was helpful, I will never know. But she was all smiles and sycophancy when the senior men in the office were around. It was the junior women in the office who bore the brunt of her vitriol.  Does this mean I prefer not to work with women?

The fact of the matter is the very fact that you can say, without thinking, ‘I prefer working with men’ you are acknowledging and accepting the patriarchal status quo. I have worked with men my entire career because I work. There are very few, non male-dominated industries. As a woman, I have been outnumbered in every single aspect of my career. I don’t have the option (nor would I want to) to be able to say ‘I prefer working with women‘. Because that in itself would limit my career aspirations tremendously. But it is possible to say ‘I prefer working with men‘ – because the reality is working with men is the only reality.

For some women I fear that this phrase is a bit of a survival technique (which we all need from time to time) for learning how not to drown in these men infested waters. ‘Look guys, I’m not one of those humourless feminists or catty girls. I love to joke around. I’m not a bitch. You don’t have to be wary of working with me…I prefer working with men.‘ You see where I went there?

Gender issues, inherent biases (from both men and women) is a complicated subject and would take a semester’s worth of Feminism 101 to get through. But the fact is for thousands of years men have ruled the ‘public world’ (work, business, academia, government etc…) women have been held in the ‘private world’ (homemaking, child rearing etc…). When women dare to wade in the public world – they are wading in an ocean that was developed, designed and devised … for men. Their very presence causes waves. Sometimes women get pushed back for making those waves and sometimes they fail to navigate those waters correctly.

If you are a woman who has ever said ‘I prefer working with men‘. Don’t think of the other men or other women you have worked with. Think of yourself. What am I saying about my place in this world and my ability to determine my own destiny?

Part two tomorrow: We just can’t find female founders! 

UPDATE (21/02/2018) Gotta love Jezabel! Cool Girl Olympics 


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