How To Fit In As A (Wo)man Amongst Boys

I often got asked how it was being a woman on the trading floor.  The answer was, I hardly thought about it.  

Perhaps that was at that point well into my career, having established and proven myself.  But I truly do believe the less you focus on the fact you are a woman and the people you are sitting beside are men, the more you will realize you are all just colleagues.

I’m lucky that although I was the oldest, my father treated me as if I was a boy.  I also had mostly older male cousins and very close family friends.  I was raised a fierce sports fan, likely because as children we were limited to 1 hr of tv a night; sports did not count.  Also, growing up in the 1980s outside Boston, sports were a pretty big thing.  Just not the Patriots; we lived within 35 miles of the stadium and sadly, the team didn’t sell out their games back then.  As a result, I don’t think I learned the rules of football til high school.  Another reason for this was that in 4th grade, when Pop Warner football made its way to my hometown, I recall asked my parents if I could participate – as a cheerleader (I thought the outfits were cute and a lot of my friends were signing up).  The answer was NO.  I think my father’s exact words were “no daughter of mine is going to stand on the sidelines cheering for boys; they should be cheering for you.”   

Maybe it is because of this upbringing that I also found myself one of those girls who always had a lot of guy friends.  I’d go to their baseball and hockey games when I didn’t have practice or games of my own, they taught me how to drive stick when I got my license, and I never ever had the feeling they didn’t want me around.  

This experience and comfort certainly helped with my transition into the real world and into an investment bank and eventually, to a seat on a trading desk.  Were there plenty of times over the years where I had feelings of being left out?  Not feeling like I fit in?  Absolutely.  But I would point out those feelings can often come as a byproduct of your age/role; being junior on a team of more senior individuals can at times lead to those same feelings.  As such, I don’t know that I can attribute certain experiences over the years directly to being a woman.

Were there times where I didn’t want to be a part of a conversation because I found it absurd, where I saw someone light a match and think to myself “seriously!?”, and where I knew the guys were speaking in hushed voices because they didn’t want me to hear?  100%.  Yet I was able to tune them out, and if I heard something like “she doesn’t even listen to us anymore” I actually would smile to myself and think, “oh I hear you, I just don’t care”.  I chose not to waste my time trying or wanting to fit in as “one of the guys”.  Instead, I embraced being “one of the only girls”.  

For those of you who maybe had four sisters and grew up in homes light on testosterone, some tips and observations my years in the trenches:

  • Don’t pretend to like sports or try to talk about sports if you a) don’t care or b) don’t know what you are talking about.  The guys can see right through that and beyond that, its just painful for others to listen to.  
  • The above does not just go for sports.  It goes for ANYTHING.  We used to have a nickname for a guy at the office named POE.  It stood for “Panel of Experts”.  He was always, immediately, an expert on whatever topic you were discussing.  That was not a complimentary nickname.  Don’t get a nickname like that.  Participate in conversations where you can add value.    
  • Don’t be afraid to be female.  There were plenty of times I cried at the office (though never as a result of a trade or a work situation).  Don’t be afraid to dress femininely, but keep it professional.  Cutouts, mesh, etc – that should be left for the gym.  I feared casual Fridays where a whole difference side of my male colleagues would show up; usually they donned too-small shirts.  Tell them – you shouldn’t wear that.  
  • Don’t swear just to be like the guys.
  • Do keep your personal relationships private until they are at the point where they are worth sharing unless you want input and everyone knowing everything.  I only say this because the guys have nothing else to do and they have very loud voices.  They will feast on your dating stories.   
  • Don’t be insulted if the men ask for advice on birthday gifts or dinner reservations or engagement rings, embrace it.  Think about their poor wife or girlfriend, the recipient of a crap gift (or forgotten altogether) when you could have helped, just a little bit
  • Embrace the wives and girlfriends.  They hate calling a shared line and having to ask for their husband/boyfriend.  They hate getting dragged to the work event where everyone has inside jokes and they really truly have no idea what you all do all day.  Make them your ally.


The best way to fit in?  Be good at your job and kick ass.  As an employee.

Megan Philbin