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I'm not sure whether this is a question for the workplace or IPS board, but I think it's more of a inter-personal than work related issue. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

About three months ago I started working for a rather big software company right after finishing university. I'm the only female (26 years old) fulltime engineer (there are two other female students, who are there a few times a week, but in a different team) in my department (the others are all about 25-40 years old with a few exceptions). I have no problem working with men, as i have dealt with a male dominated environment in my studies, too, and many of my close friends from that time are male. During my studies I have encountered some... awkward situations, with male students not knowing how to handle a female team mate or even lead, but nothing even close to harassment or anything. So it's not like I never experienced any feeling of exclusion because of my gender, but it hasn't bothered me much at that time, because the projects were short-lived.

Now, in the working world, this is a bit different. My department is settled in R&D, so we are actually quite a few small teams with very different projects, that have not really much to do with each other. I'm in a very new, very small team, with only one colleague, who I get along with quite fine. So I don't really work with the other people in my department and we generally don't have much in common work wise.

Now, the thing is, that I can't really integrate into the rest of team somehow. I'm generally shy at first, but quite outgoing as soon as I'm in a conversation with someone (I might even talk a little bit too much at times, when I'm excited about a topic...). At first I thought, that it's probably going away with time, when I get to know them better. Now, three months into the working world, I still have the feeling, that they don't really know how to interact with me. I don't think this is mainly because of my gender, but I suspect it's at least a part of the problem. They are definitely not unfriendly or rude or anything, but some of them can't even look me in the eyes, when I greet them in the hallway, and oftentimes it's just really, really awkward (for both sides I assume). In the beginning some of them tried to talk to me out of courtesy, asking about my studies and my project, but this stopped after about a month, when these subjects were exhausted. The atmosphere is generally really chill, relaxed, and easy most of the time, and they talk to each other quite frequently and most have been working here for a few years by now, so it sometimes feels like I'm left out of the "boys club", when they talk about their projects, their hobbies, ... When I try to just take part in the conversation (e.g. through asking questions) it oftentimes feels like hijacking, because I don't really have to say anything about the subject and feel that I sound just desperate and annoying. They also had no problem interacting with a new colleague who started after me, who was integrated right from the start (he was working in a bigger team, though).

I have to say, I didn't really mind that much first, because I did not intend to make any best buddies here, and I thought it would just become better with time on it's own. But now my only team member is away for a long vacation. On most days the whole department is having lunch together. I really dread the lunch time by now, because they mostly won't talk to/ignore me (not in a mean/hostile manner, just like... not waiting for me to get my food and such. More like in an awkward manner.) and sometimes when the table is already full I have to sit alone. I often try to start a conversation on the way to the canteen, to keep it going during lunch, asking about projects, current events, and so on, but mostly it won't last until lunch, because we oftentimes spread out to get our food and meet again at a table.

I really want to integrate myself into the department more, to avoid such awkward situations in the future and have a more pleasant/healthy work environment for everyone. But I really don't know what to do anymore. I tried initiating conversations, I tried asking questions, making jokes, and generally try to be as likable as possible (this is my nature anyway). Oftentimes these strategies work for a single conversation, that is then really great. But afterwards it's just like before and they still have a hard time interacting with me later. Is there anything else I can do? I'd rather not talk to my lead about it, at least right now, because I fear it would be taken the wrong way, me complaining about them not liking me immediately and that it's their fault and such (which I don't believe at all). If possible, I want to do this on my own by adjusting my communication to be more inviting.

  • For some i know for sure they have wives and children, for others I'm pretty sure they do have at least girlfriends. Others I'm not sure at all. But even so, there has to be something I can do, to change the situation for the better, or not? I'm still very insecure, it being my first job and all. – Gretel_f Sep 20 '18 at 8:25
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    For what it's worth, communication is best with the ones that have families and talk about them a lot. But still, those are much older than me and have a set "circle of colleagues to talk to during lunch", oftentimes the others with families. – Gretel_f Sep 20 '18 at 8:27
  • How often does your company hire new people? – Pyritie Sep 20 '18 at 9:13
  • Actually quite often, I'd say. In the three months, since I started, two or three others have been hired or transferred from another department (we are around 20-25 or so). We also got several working students for the winder term. The whole company has been expanding for the last few years, i think. – Gretel_f Sep 20 '18 at 9:29
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They are definitely not unfriendly or rude or anything, but some of them can't even look me in the eyes, when I greet them in the hallway, and oftentimes it's just really, really awkward (for both sides I assume). In the beginning some of them tried to talk to me out of courtesy, asking about my studies and my project, but this stopped after about a month, when these subjects were exhausted.

As much as I'm not wanting to stereotype, don't underestimate the somewhat larger degree of social ineptitude that you find in what I'm going to generalize as "intellectual" fields.
In another vein, it may also be a consequence from them not wanting to come across as trying to garner the attention of the one female coworker, which can wrongly be inferred (by you or third parties) to be an attempt at flirting.

Based on your description, it's more than reasonable that this may simply be inexperience with casually interacting with women.

Note if this is in fact an ingrained company culture, then this answer definitely does not apply, and I genuinely wouldn't know how to overcome it. This may be incredibly hard or even nigh impossible to overcome.

I can actually use myself as an example here. I'm not the most social at the best of times, but I do notice that I feel slightly more comfortable talking to men than women (if they're strangers). Not because of any sexist ideas; it's simply a matter of statistically being more likely to find common ground, and due to social anxiety I tend to avoid situations that are more likely to lead to awkwardness (which ensues from not finding common ground).

The simplest fix here is to show that you won't bite. This means you'll initially be the one always taking the first step, but when you've created enough rapport to show that you're just "one of the guys", they'll be less guarded about interacting with you.

  • Start conversations with them.
  • Show interest in things the group does (e.g. ask if you could join them for lunch, or if there's a team building event, or ...)
  • Strictly avoid coming across as wanting to prove a point, it makes your interactions feel disingenuous and it's hard to recover from it after it has happened. Stay true to yourself at all times.
  • Try to match their usual conversations, both in topic and tone. However, don't force it. If the topic/tone does not come natural to you, find a middle ground between their preferred topic/tone and yours.
  • Comedy works wonders. If you make people laugh, they tend to not feel guarded about you anymore. This is why icebreakers are so valuable for social purposes.
  • (Subtly) disprove the specific stereotype they may have wrongly attributed to you. If they assume you don't engage in shop talk; show them that you do. If they assume you don't like coarse/dark humor; prove them wrong. If they're afraid of saying something wrong; laugh off your own mistake so that they know you don't get caught up on it.
  • Rally behind a common enemy (within professional reason). Whether it's management, the code quality, or the procedures, there will generally always be a commonly agreed upon enemy. If you offhandedly (indirectly) talk about your frustation with something that just "happens to be" their common enemy, that has a bonding effect.
  • Asking for their help may also lead them to feel less inept around you - as you've suggested to them that you find their input valuable (and therefore wouldn't dismiss them).

The core idea behind all these suggestions is that you genuinely show that there's common ground between you and them. If they realize that you're intentionally finding common ground, or that you knew that this would be common ground before you sad anything; then they might (wrongly) infer that you are forcing your way into social interaction.

  • I have a hard time accepting only one answer, but i will accept this one, because it gives me the best simple advices, that I can try to follow. Thanks a lot! – Gretel_f Sep 24 '18 at 5:42
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As stated in the comments, software companies tend to draw a certain demographic that isn't that great with some parts of human interaction.

I believe 3 months might not be enough time for some people to open up to you, especially if you don't have that much interaction expect during lunch time.

Usually big companies organize different clubs based on some interests and meetups to try to mitigate this exact alienation of employees from different teams, but I guess it is not available everywhere. My information is from people working for google and I am well aware employee care is at a different level there.

I would suggest look for such meetups and try to meet people outside of work hours. If such do not exist you can look into organizing one. A thing that works well with IT people in my experience is board games. I myself have a passion for them as well so if I was in your position I would ask my superiors if we could organize something like that and I will bring a few games from my collection on the arranged date and have some fun with other coworkers. If they enjoy your company doing not related to work things they will open up to you a lot more easily. You can do a lot of other stuff too depending on what you enjoy. Just try to engage with them out of work and have fun.

As you said you you don't have that much to talk about currently so finding some activity that you can do together and then talk about it afterwards is the key. Movie, concert, games, something of that sort. Drinks or barbecue or a hike could be awkward if there is no conversation going on.

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From my personal experience, it can be difficult breaking in to an established company with long term employees. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with gender. It's more that people have worked together, formed their friendships and habits, and aren't necessarily looking to integrate new people into their groups.

I took a new job at an established company and that's exactly what I've found. The company is mostly male employees, but that isn't really a factor, as the men and women seem to get along fine. There's no social awkwardness there. But as you have found, people are very polite with me, but not particularly friendly.

What has happened for me is that as I work with people on projects, we develop a relationship and it becomes easier and friendlier to chat on a variety of topics. It's unfortunate that you only have one colleague you work with day to day. One of the problems I've seen is that a lot of people have no clue what I do, and really no basis for talking to me. Once I work with someone, that problem is dispelled.

Simply chatting, or attending company functions, may break the ice a little but doesn't really fix anything. The only thing that's helped me is actually working with people, solving problems together. I also share an office with a couple of people and occasionally have joined in on general conversations, and that's gotten me to a friendly basis with my office mates.

Bottom line

  • It's going to take time. I've been at my job 2 years (yeah, I'm a serious introvert) and I'm still breaking the ice with people. But it is getting better. 3 months is a very short period of time.
  • As much as possible try to find ways or projects for actually working with other people. That will give you a chance to talk, build respect, and give your coworkers knowledge about who you are and what you do.
  • When the opportunity arises, keep joining casual conversation. Yeah it's awkward, but that's how you find common interests. I love dogs and when a coworker I didn't know brought her puppy to work, it gave us a chance to bond over a shared interest.

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