Leadership is when you hire good people and stay out of their way so they can perform.

Christine%20Nigro Christine%20Nigro

Christine Nigro

Vice chairwoman, AXA Advisors

Christine Nigro has negotiated her way through a male-dominated industry with humor and compassion. "There was a long period of my career where I was trying to fit in," she said.

Very early on, at a previous company, Ms. Nigro found herself in a locker-room atmosphere. The humor and the culture were challenging.

"I wanted to say, ‘Stop!' but my co-workers might say, ‘Look at her, she's humorless,'" she said. "Finally one day I said, ‘No, I don't want to give you $20 for a stripper for a birthday party!'"

Ms. Nigro received a lot of negative push-back and was teased for a year, but came away with an insight: It's not just women who feel trapped in this culture; it's men too.

She offered some tips for women in mostly male environments:

• Maintain a sense of humor. If you push back aggressively, you'll get the same response.

• Don't assume ill will. Be aware that some men are brought up in male-dominated homes, and they don't realize they're being offensive.

• Give men the opportunity to learn what's important to you. Just because they talk about football doesn't mean they don't want to hear about your interests.

"We need to get better than ‘us versus them,'" Ms. Nigro said.

— Deborah Nason


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