What I Learned From Working With Men

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One female founder shares some of the lessons she's learned working amongst all men at a fashion tech startup.

By Kathleen Ong (Co-founder, Girls Raising)

Being the only girl at a tech startup is sort of like hanging out at The Boys Club (even though we’re working to change that, right?). But being the only girl at a fashion tech startup? Sometimes it feels like I live in an alternate universe, where we speak different languages and communicate on a whole other level. You know, Prada vs. Python and Rachel Zoe vs. RabbitMQ.

At Wantering, the fashion tech startup that I’m with, we’re disrupting the e-commerce space with a really simple idea: let’s solve some of the basic problems in e-commerce by using big data to make shopping online better. People often ask me what I love most about my job, and besides looking at fashion all day long and sharing what I’m passionate about, my answer is learning from the guys.

I’m fortunate enough to work with six guys who are respectful, considerate, hard working and fun to be around. When you spend most of your waking hours with the same people, these qualities are some of the most important ones to have. Everyone who works at a startup understands how important it is feel motivated and driven by your team. And although gender doesn’t matter when it comes to how hard you work, subtle differences in behavior and communications do play a part in how everyone interacts with each other. Coming from more women dominated industries (fashion and public relations), I’ve been able to experience a whole spectrum of work environments.

So what are some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned so far?

Get to the Point

It’s a common joke that I talk too much. With daily stand-up scrum meetings every morning, everyone on the team is forced to distill updates on what they are working on into a short snippet. The team is kept in the loop within 15 minutes and we’re all back to work immediately after.

Using the “Talking Stick”

It’s Monday morning and we need to do a full recap on what happened the week prior and talk about what’s on everyone’s plate this week. What’s another use for the Nerf gun sitting around in our office? Whoever is in possession of the Nerf gun controls the floor, making our meetings more efficient and on topic.

Eat Lunch Together

We eat lunch together every single day, whether it’s at our own desks, in our Nintendo-themed boardroom or on the couch. This is usually thought of as a way for startups to stealthily encourage their staff to never stop working, but in all honestly, sharing a meal together makes you feel like a family. And, when you spend that much time together, you more often than not become a second family.

Hug it out

It might be a stereotype that men are less likely to hold a grudge, but so far I’ve yet to be proven wrong. I’ve watched them get into heated discussions and arguments about everything from product roadmaps and timelines to site design, but after hashing it out there is no room for unresolved anger.

Have Some Fun

This might sound like an obvious point, but being social with your co-workers helps you to get to know them better and creates stronger individual bonds. Each Formal Friday, we get together and hang out. It’s a stress reliever at the end of the week and something that everyone looks forward to.

These are lessons that have kept me sane during times when I’ve felt overwhelmed or on the verge of burning out, but I know that there’s far more to be learned. In the meantime, I’m going to keep calm, try to stay organized, get inspired, and enjoy the journey.

What are some lessons you have learned from the men you work with?

Kathleen.Ong.HeadshotAbout the guest blogger: Kathleen recently graduated with her MBA after majoring in English and Media for her BA degree. She works in marketing and social media at Wantering and guest writes for Levo League. She is co-founder of Girls Raising, a monthly pitch event in NYC that helps female founded startups that are raising a seed round. Follow her on Twitter @itsmekathleeno.