In the hotel industry, the housekeeping department is comprised of room attendants (100% female) and housemen (100% male). Management is typically 90-100% female. This predominantly female management team often has difficulty working with the housemen. Housemen are responsible for public areas of the hotel such as the lobby, hallways, restaurant, and lounges. They range in age from 25-62 and ethnicities include Hispanic, African American, Asian and Caucasian. Most have been employed full time for 15 or more years. Housekeeping managers are often young (25-30) and have little experience. Some have been promoted from room attendant positions while others come straight out of hospitality school having spent a year or two as an intern or junior manager.
This dynamic is not easy to manage. A lot of conflict is generated around gender and experience (Who is she to tell me what to do? I’ve been here 10 years longer), and resistance to authority (She can’t change that- for what?). Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts for women to effectively manage an all-male team:
1. DON’T try to be ‘one of the gang.’ You are not one of them, so joining them on break, or inviting them to chat in the office only creates confusion and makes it more difficult to establish boundaries and effectively lead.
DO create an authentic relationship by showing interest in who they are. Notice a haircut, new glasses, logo on a hat or sweatshirt (I see you’re a Yankees fan). This builds a connection- you care about more than just getting the job done.
2. DON’T be defensive. When you are challenged (You’re wrong. Can’t use that chemical) you may automatically attempt to assert your power and position.(Do it my way! I’m in charge) but this will only serve to escalate the conflict.
DO be clear and responsive. You’ll need to make it clear that the worker must show respect even when disagreeing with you (We can discuss this, but no yelling or accusing). Be responsive to the worker’s idea (OK, so if not this chemical, what would you use?). This shows that while you have the final say, you are open to learning from those with more experience and can admit you don’t know it all.
3. DON’T let go of your authority. It is easy to become intimidated and overwhelmed by resistant and angry men. But retreating is not an option. The group needs leadership and structure, so for better or worse, you’re it.
DO lead in your own unique style. Think about what you have to offer: enthusiasm, sense of humor, passion for the work. Whatever you have, USE IT. Be authentic and honest when you don’t know something (I’m not sure what the policy is on X. Let me check it out) and admit your mistakes (Sorry, I was late ordering the supplies you need). Acknowledge the expertise of your staff (You know a lot more about this than I do) and elicit their help and feedback (What do you think and what’s past practice?). All this shows your humanity, which is crucial to building a strong relationship.
Managing an all-male staff as a female has its challenges, but the key is always authenticity. Be clear and direct and work through whatever comes your way. This is not always easy or comfortable, but well worth the effort. Stick with it and you’ll build strong relationships and an effective team.
About the Author: With a background in social work and 2 decades of experience as a union worker, Laura MacLeod created “From The Inside Out Project®,” with all levels of employment in mind to assist in maintaining a harmonious workplace. She is an adjunct professor in graduate studies at the Hunter College Silberman School of Social Work. MacLeod speaks on conflict resolution, problem solving, and listening skills at conferences across the country.