I'm the sole woman on a five-person sales team. We get along very well, but the guys occasionally go to a strip club. They invite me along, but of course I always decline. Is there anything else I should do?
Men! Well, asking them to consider after-hours activities that are a bit more inclusive wouldn't be a bad start. If their G-string galas offend you, it's certainly your prerogative to speak up. If their behavior doesn't bother you, and you're comfortable being part of what sounds like an effective team, I'd leave well enough alone. But if you're feeling left out of essential conversations, or if you think they view you in the same shallow way as they do strippers, then you and the guys should have a good heart-to-heart.
If you go this route, be careful how you put it. The success of your team depends in part on the soundness of your interpersonal connections. Explain that you're not passing judgment on your colleagues' right to visit these establishments—but that it makes you uncomfortable being invited to something they know you'll turn down.
Of course, that raises the question of why they're inviting you in the first place. My bet is that your male colleagues treat you like one of the guys most of the time, but on their nights out they're trying to get a rise out of you. Also, some men patronize strip clubs as a way of dealing with their anxiety about intimate relationships, including with each other. If you really want to shake up the guys, you might lay out the theory that they're inviting you to cut the latent homosexual tension between them. Or better yet, insist that on their next night out you all go see male strippers.
Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, founder of the Boswell Group LLC, advises CEOs on people and culture issues. Send him questions about the psychology of business (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the November 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.