Dear Mary: All-girls club makes me uncomfortable at work

I feel a bit embarrassed to write this, but there you go. I work in an office where my department is predominantly female. There are almost twice as many female workers as there are male. Of that group, all of the men are managers except me. I’m the odd one out there, having joined later than the rest, while only one of the women is a manager.

Maybe this has led to a feeling that the women should stick together, I’m not sure. Anyway, although I feel like I get on well with everybody on an individual basis, I am excluded from the monthly female-only lunches. After two years in the company, my birthday has never been celebrated because that’s something that ‘the girls’ organise among themselves.

The other male workers have been with the company for a number of years and have lots of connections outside our department. As I live quite far away and have to drive to work, I can’t go out for beers, so I feel like I am missing out on the social side of work. It makes it difficult to connect with people outside my department, and there are no lunches organised besides those of the ‘girls club’. They organise these via the Slack messaging system and again, of course, I am not included in that group chat.

When all the women troop off to their lunches without me I feel pretty bad, even though I should probably be used to it by now.

My question is: should I just suck it up, get over myself and stop whinging, or am I right to feel a little sorry for myself?

Mary replies: There is no need to be embarrassed about this. If it bothers you enough to write to me, then it needs to be addressed.

You feel that you are missing out on the social aspect of your workplace and it is something that you would really like to see happen. It seems to me that you are excluded from the female-only lunches because you are not female. It is as simple as that. I am presuming that the one female manager attends these lunches and that it is not a ‘them versus us’ situation. An all-female or indeed an all-male group has quite a different dynamic to a mixed group, and so if the ladies were to invite you to join them for their monthly lunches, everything would change.

You would be very much in the minority, they would possibly not feel free to speak about things that they are used to speaking about in an all-female group, and things may be a little uncomfortable for everybody.

People find it hard to adapt to change, and keeping things as they are is usually a much more preferable option.

You feel that you cannot go out for beers with your colleagues because you are driving and live far away. But why not go along and have a non-alcoholic beer? Nobody cares what you drink as long as you contribute to the general chat and ‘craic’. It is at least worth a try.

Next time it is your birthday, think about inviting everybody in the department out for a drink after work. Only some of them will accept as people have lots of commitments, but at least you will be showing that you are willing to socialise as well as work. Or you could bring in a cake or some cupcakes for people to have with their coffee to help you celebrate.

In a way, you are like somebody joining a school a few years after everybody else. At that stage, friendships have been formed, and it is difficult for the newcomer to slot in. As a result, they can be left feeling quite isolated. The fact that you are an adult doesn’t make it any easier.

If there is one person to whom you feel a little closer than others, then perhaps you could casually mention how difficult you are finding it to become part of the group, particularly socially, and ask for any suggestions they may have.

I’m sure your letter will cause many people to consider how they have welcomed new staff members to the workplace and how inclusive they have been, and for that I thank you.

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