Why are you on this team?

credibility teamwork Sep 16, 2020

Over the past week I’ve heard several women comment on statements from male team members that question why the woman is on that team or how they got there. Grrr…. These comments make my blood boil. There was an implied and inherent assumption that the woman couldn’t be qualified to be on the team, despite years of relevant experience and expertise. Fortunately, the women involved had heard it before and quickly put the guy in his place.

My mind then started wandering back the Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” because there seems to be an absence of trust (Dysfunction #1) on these teams. Lencioni uses the word trust in the context of being confident that each team member has good intentions and it’s acceptable to be vulnerable with each other. The phase he uses that resonates for me is “Members of teams with an absence of trust …. Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them.”

When people assume you don’t belong on a team or project because you’re a woman it creates a situation where you can’t trust that others will support you, help you or listen to your ideas. You quickly become the outsider. This impacts the effectiveness of the team as a whole and it can diminish your contribution as well as sapping your confidence.

What can you do if you are in a situation like this? Here are 5 tips:

  1. Be clear on your role: Make sure you know what your role is on the team. If questioned you can then calmly state you are there to do X, Y and Z because of your background and experience in those areas.
  2. Stick to your guns. Since you are clear on your role and responsibilities you can easily say no to requests that are not aligned, particularly if they are beneath your skills. The reality is that we all must pitch in to help as needs be, but if you are asked to do things that are not your responsibility because it’s women’s work, say no. For example if you are asked take the minutes for every meeting because you are the only woman on the team, say you’ll do it this time and it can rotate to someone else next time if it really is not in your role.
  3. Stay calm, cool and collected. If you can maintain your cool when people say demeaning things, like “what did you have to do to get on this team” you will come out ahead in the end. While it’s tempting to lash out verbally, it doesn’t help you demonstrate your capabilities. If you respond at all, remind them of your role and move on. They aren’t worth your sanity.
  4. Skip the blame game. When things go wrong or mistakes are made, as will inevitably happen, look for solutions and skip placing blame on a person. By focusing on results, you demonstrate the willingness to move forward without destroying the reputation of others.
  5. Be true to you. If you are a polite, professional person then act that way to everyone. If you like to engage with your team, then make the effort. You don’t have to become best friends but withdrawing and hiding your real self away wears on you and wears you down. Be you, be authentic, and own your role, skills and experiences. Faking behavior will always fail over time and gives the critics something to talk about.

There will always be those naysayers who want to tear down your right to be in a role. That’s their problem not yours so don’t take it on. To earn the trust of those around you be authentic, do you’re you are there to do, and be professional. Additionally, be firm if someone crosses boundaries and say no to the requests that are not appropriate. Your actions will speak loudly to those around you. What do you want them to say?


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