Thrive in a male-dominated industry

Being a woman in the workplace can be challenging. But, when it comes to women working in a male-dominated industry, that challenge takes on a whole new meaning. Male-dominated industries typically comprise less than 25% women. These industries include aerospace, construction, gas extraction, mining, quarrying, STEM, transportation, and utilities.

The challenge is real.

In male-dominated industries, reports of sexual harassment are much more prevalent than in other sectors. Women struggle to cope with the pervasive stereotypes, lack of leadership opportunities, and being overlooked for leadership roles. With perseverance and determination, women can thrive in male-dominated industries.

Thriving in male-dominated industries.

Develop a thick skin: Remember why you went into the industry or chose the occupation you did. Be confident of who you are and optimistic that you can overcome any challenges. It takes perseverance and dedication. Accept that not everyone is going to be your fan. Accept good advice and ignore feedback that isn’t helpful.

Learn to be a quick study: When you know what you are talking about, you build credibility and respect. Do your homework, ask questions, and pay attention. A good practice is to take notes for future reference.

Demonstrate your expertise: Don’t shy away from the tough questions. Anticipate and be prepared to answer questions specific to your industry, occupation, and project. Most importantly, be able to back up your answers and decisions to position yourself as a knowledgeable and confident member of the organization.

Be assertive: If there is a project you want to lead or be involved in, don’t be afraid to ask. Men are pretty upfront about projects they want to work on, while women often don’t vocalize it. Make sure your leaders know what your interests are and schedule a time to formalize a plan.

Networking and bonding: The best business deals and career opportunities often happen on the golf course, over cocktails or a beer. For a woman, breaking into the “boys club” can be intimidating, but it’s essential to build relationships and bond with your male colleagues. If you’re not a golfer, sign up for a few lessons at the local golf course with the resident golf pro—you’ll be proficient in no time. If the issue is that you’re not invited, take the initiative and invite your colleagues to something. Once they get to know you better, they will begin to include you.

Avoid being too sensitive or offended. Men often bond outside of work and become friends. There is a level of trust in and out of the workplace, and sometimes those lines blur. They want to know they can trust you and know that you’re not going to run to HR because you might hear something off-color that was probably best left to happy hour versus the workplace. With this said, sexual harassment is never ok.

Set boundaries and stick to them: Successful men are not picking up their boss’s coffee and lunch—you shouldn’t either. It’s not your job. If it’s a special occasion such as a retirement or birthday, that might be the exception to the rule. When you position yourself as an assistant, you are perceived as one.

Learn to say no: Many industries and occupations put pressure on their employees and overload them with unreasonable deadlines and demands. Don’t become the “yes” person. If it’s a project you want, grab it, but make set the ground rules up front. When you position yourself to be taken advantage of, you will be.

Leverage your strengths: Women are often stereotyped as being more nurturing, emotional, in touch with their feelings, and more social. Understanding the “pulse” of the team, being able to empathize with a struggling employee, collaboration, and teaming are all excellent soft skills for a woman looking to move into a leadership role. Appreciate the advantage you have and use it to your benefit.

Get a mentor: A mentor can motivate you, inspire you, help you build new skills, and reach your goals. If there is another woman in a leadership position, ask her if she would be willing to be your coach. If that’s not an option, look for a male within your organization or industry known to champion women and appreciate female leaders. It’s essential to build relationships with your boss and senior leaders from day one. Know who your most influential advocates are and cultivate those relationships.

Don’t dwell on challenges: It is easier for men to receive funding for a new venture or business than for women. While it can be frustrating and challenging, please don’t dwell on it. Instead, maintain a positive attitude, do your homework, and look for creative ways to overcome any challenges that come your way.

Bring a male colleague with you: The best leaders do what is best for the business. Sometimes, the best choice is to bring a male colleague with you. A male colleague (especially one who has your back) can often help you build a relationship where you might otherwise struggle.

Being a woman in any male-dominated industry can be fraught with challenges. Unfortunately, nothing can adequately prepare you for what to expect or how to navigate every situation. With a positive attitude, willingness to learn, and adopting some simple techniques, you can help other women enter the industry.

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