For exhibit and event professionals  

Your Dilemma Answers: No ‘girls’ allowed?

February 4, 2013 By Editor

Of all the department heads at my company, I’m the only woman. When the executive VP gets all of us together for a meeting, he seldom asks for my opinion. And if I offer my thoughts on an issue, one or more of my counterparts snickers or whispers something to the guy sitting beside him. How do I break into this boys club and get them to take me seriously?

— Name withheld

Show them the boys club is a thing of the past

You earned your position, and your opinions should be valued. Unfortunately, some knuckle-dragging males at your company can’t accept these facts. But you don’t have to put up with their shenanigans.

Our readers say you should:

  • Confront the offenders.
  • Take the high road.
  • Prove your worth.

Confront the offenders

Obviously, these other department heads hope their behavior will shut you up — or out. So, stand your ground in a public way.

An advertising assistant thinks a “slap in the face” may stop their misbehavior.

“Address the next snicker by saying, ‘One more snicker, and this will go to the H.R. department. And if you don’t want to hear my input, don’t invite me to your meetings!’”

Take the high road

On the other hand, seeing you lose your cool may be exactly what the boys are hoping for, so a more tactful approach may be a better option.

A show and exhibit specialist knows exactly how you feel and what to do about their childish actions.

“I frequently find myself in similar situations. However, there have been NO females in top positions in the history of the group. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished.

“Seize the moment when the ‘boys’ snicker. Take charge of their ‘enthusiasm’ and reactions to your comments in a positive light. Look directly at the laugher and say with a smile, ‘Did you have a thought about that?’ or ‘I see you also have an idea about that, Jim.’

“Don’t let them get away with juvenile behavior, and soon it will stop. You made it this far, so don’t let them bring you down, and always give them a genuine smile. As long as you take the high road in that moment, nobody will find fault. It won’t take long until the VP sees how adept you are at shaping their behavior.”

Prove your worth

Of course, you don’t have to talk to the other group members about what’s been going on — and still change the way they act.

An anonymous reader believes the answer is in your own abilities.

“From a group dynamic perspective, you’re viewed as the outsider, which is why the VP seldom asks your opinion and your counterparts snicker and whisper. Their behavior is designed to keep you from collectively joining; they want you to feel uncomfortable giving your opinion or keep you from having the opportunity to offer it.

“It’s a bad spot, but you have to persevere. Offer your opinion when you know it has merit, don’t be afraid to disagree with a different opinion, and don’t let them make you sweat. Know your work, your team and your company inside and out, better than your male counterparts. Use your work and work ethic as your sword and your shield. The other members of the group will have to look beyond their gender bias and see a person who is capable, thoughtful and hard working.

“Plus, if you have something important to say to the VP, schedule a private meeting. Then, keep it simple and to the point: ‘Thanks for meeting with me, Bob. I didn’t get a chance to mention this is in the group meeting, but I think this idea would work ….’ One-on-one with the VP means no distractions and no peer pressure from the boys. Use the same strategy with the other department heads; rather than joining the group, individually turn them into supporters.

“It will take time and a lot of work, but you probably didn’t get to be the only female department head at your company because you’re lazy or soft. Good luck.”


  • A combination of taking the high road and demonstrating this department head’s capabilities will serve this department head well. Suffering in silence could eventually affect her self-esteem, while becoming confrontational could exacerbate the situation and possibly damage her career.

    Do you have any other options she should consider?

    • I too originally found myself in this situation. I became a very good listener, and then found someone to take up my cause one-on-one. He soon became a spokesperson for me, although not crediting me until after the group had accepted my comments and ideas. It took time, but several of them came around, one by one, and realized that I had made major contributions to the success of the company. I still pick and choose whom I speak with in confidence, and usually get some “buy-in” before submitting my course of action, or my suggestions to the group, but this has eliminated the backhanded comments and snears, and garnered the respect deserved.

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