Tips for women to thrive in male dominated industries

Rise to the top

Despite the rapid strides we have made towards gender equity in the workplace there are still many male dominated industries. Some examples of sectors that have yet to come close to achieving gender parity include information technology, most segments of the engineering industry, construction and investment banking.

The good news is that even in these industries, women are achieving higher levels of representation and visibility than they had just 15 years ago. Nonetheless, making your way in an industry where female colleagues or clients are rare can be lonely as a female entrepreneur or employee.

So, with that in mind, here are a few ideas about how you can thrive on your own terms if you’re a woman working in a male-dominated workplace or industry:

  • Don’t let the stereotypes bother you.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Be assertive.
  • Network with other women in your sector.
  • Cultivate relationships.
  • Don’t get caught up in imposter syndrome.
  • False modesty will get you nowhere.
  • Don’t let your gender become the sole focus.

1. Don’t let the stereotypes bother you

If there aren’t many women in your field, you may need to dodge some stereotypes. It might not be uncommon for people at a conference or event to assume that you’re a marketer or a personal assistant rather than a techie or an entrepreneur. And you might sometimes hear someone say something that doesn’t sit well with you. Don’t allow this to rattle you – but do own your career choice with pride and state with confidence what your experience and qualifications are. When someone ‘mansplains’ to you or voices a wrong-headed opinion about women in your field, set them straight gently or assertively, but don’t take it personally.

2. Find a mentor you can trust; mentor other women

Try to find someone in your field who you look up to and who would be willing to help you negotiate the pitfalls and opportunities of the working environment. Another woman might be better placed to understand your perspective than a man, but there are also many male entrepreneurs and colleagues who are keen to help grow female representation in the industry. And pay it forward by offering your insights and support to younger women in your field who would appreciate someone to show them the ropes.

3. Be assertive

If you’re the only woman at the table or in a meeting, you might hesitate to state your opinion or preference. Don’t wait to be asked, but speak up when you have an insight or idea to share. Own your idea – don’t let someone else try to explain it for you, even if they’re well-meaning. Negotiate hard to get the rate or salary increase you deserve. A confident but respectful attitude is key to getting others to listen to you.

4. Network with other women in your sector

Women who are in a minority in a sector really want to bring more women into the industry and see them succeed. Many of them will go out of their way to support other female professionals in their field, plus, they’ll have some interesting stories to share from the trenches and they’ll understand your perspectives and challenges. Seek them out on social media, ask mutual professional acquaintances to introduce you to other women in your field, and join networking groups for female entrepreneurs or professionals. It can help you to feel a little less lonely if you mostly work with men day in and day out.

 5. Cultivate relationships

Networking really matters because the right set of contacts will help you find business partners, investors, clients and even employees. Take the time to meet colleagues for a drink or coffee, when that’s allowed after COVID, or for a virtual networking session. And support your colleagues if you want them to do the same for you.

6. Don’t get caught up in imposter syndrome

Most intelligent and self-aware people fall prey to occasional doubts about their capabilities and performance. The trick is not to allow this to blossom into full-blown imposter syndrome, where you start thinking that you’re a fraud and that you don’t deserve that job, project or client. Most woman who get imposter syndrome are highly successful and competent. Remind yourself that you are where you are because your boss, clients or partners believe in your dedication, talent and expertise.

 7. False modesty will get your nowhere

Society has conditioned many women to be self-effacing, but the reality is that quiet over-delivery often goes unnoticed. It is important, for that reason, to take ownership of your work, contributions and ideas. Yes, it’s important to be humble and to share the glory for team successes, but not by negating your own work and accomplishments. Take credit where it’s due.

8. Don’t let your gender become the sole focus

You’ll share many of the same challenges as your male colleagues – whether that’s coming up with a great idea, navigating the relationship with a really tricky client or finding enough time in the day to get everything done. Remember that as much as your gender is a key part of your identity, the barriers will start to fade if you focus on the goals you share with your colleagues and what you have in common.

 Final thoughts

It can be challenging to be in the minority in an industry or company. Sometimes it’s lonely; occasionally, you might encounter outdated and downright sexist perspectives from colleagues. However, when you get into the right mindset, it’s a lot easier to rise to the top. Use the tips in this article to your advantage so you can not only succeed but also thrive in any male-dominated industry.