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Fitting a Man Into an All-Female Office

We explore the dynamics of bringing the first male employee into an all-female work environment.

What do you do when your business team has been all-female for a while, and you're about to hire your first male employee?

Bringing a man into the mix "was a concern from the beginning," admits Tracey Tee, 32, co-founder of Delight.com, a shopping site that will surpass $1 million in sales this year. The site specializes in products and gifts for women, with a few select items for men. "We discussed the pros and cons, and the main issue was whether a male would embrace the incredible attention to detail that goes into packing our orders."

During the hiring process, Tee says she used brutal honesty to make sure her first male hire would know what he was getting into. "We're a staff of passionate, outspoken women," she explains. "We also have a family dynamic, as my mother works for the company. The whole setup can be a bit intimidating." The prospective hire assured Tee that, having grown up as the only male among several sisters, he wasn't intimidated.

Sandra Fathi, 38, found herself with an all-woman company because of the number of working mothers in the PR field looking for flexible work schedules. Her $1.5 million New York City firm, Affect Strategies, wasn't looking for either a male or female--just the best person for the job.

"When we found an ambitious, intelligent young graduate who wasn't intimidated by working with six women in the office, we gave him an opportunity," she says.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, author of How To Run Your Business Like a Girl: Successful Strategies from Entrepreneurial Women Who Made It Happen, says women's management styles tend to be more about building relationships than establishing a hierarchy. "That plays out in the workplace, and a woman business owner may be drawn to employees who are also good at bonding, which often means other women," she explains.

Fathi observed that it was harder for her first male employee to bond with co-workers over typical after-work activities such as shopping. Within a few months, the company hired another male, and after-work activities began to include going to sporting events.

Today her staff is 25 percent male, and she says the spirit of her company has remained the same: "entrepreneurial, family-oriented."

"Too much estrogen in the room can get a little stifling," Cogswell Baskin says. "It can be a breath of fresh air for an all-woman office to get some testosterone into the mix. Any workplace is enhanced by including people of different perspectives and life experience--whether that means different genders, ages or ethnicity."

Unfortunately, Tee's first male hire didn't work out. She says, "With the benefit of hindsight, [I better] understand the different dynamics of a male in a female office and [will continue to] try to find the best job for the best person."

Aliza Sherman is a web pioneer, e-entrepreneur and author of eight books, including

PowerTools for Women in Business.

Her work can be found at mediaegg.com.

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