by Tammy Hughes

I recently had a conversation with a man who worked with more than 350 women in an all-female division of an organization in the food and beverage industry. I had heard about his story and was eager to learn from his situation.

When we sat down to talk, he told me he felt isolated and alone. His colleagues, he said, tended to chat about topics like new shoes and cleaning products before meetings. He felt out of his element in these bonding discussions. During team problem-solving sessions, his boss became irritated with him for “trying to land the plane” by providing solutions. From her perspective, he was cutting discussions short—and she began to see him as a problem.

He tried hard to behave like his team, but being the solo representative of his gender created discomfort and disconnects for him every single day. When he got excited about his ideas in meetings, the team perceived him as domineering. He felt forced to behave in a female way because his organization didn’t recognize or appreciate the male culture he came from. By the time he and I spoke, he was completely exhausted from behaving in ways that weren’t natural for him, and he had decided to leave for another opportunity. I thanked him for the chance to learn from his experience and wished him well.

This situation was unique because it involved a solitary man instead of a lone woman. But it’s a story we hear over and over from people all around the world. Often organizations hire only a few representatives—sometimes only one—of their gender, challenging those individuals to behave like the other gender. Navigating this is physiologically tiresome. The man I spoke with worked on a team that didn’t understand gender differences, much less appreciate them. Instead of tapping into the strengths of his male culture, he was forced to behave in ways that didn’t make sense to him. To survive and contribute, he was forced to think from a woman’s perspective.

This organization missed out!

Why do we hire rich diversity only to marginalize or sideline it?

To learn more about these differences and to help your organization benefit from them, read the new revised edition of Hardball for Women by Pat Heim, Ph.D. and Tammy Hughes.

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