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Joining the ‘Boys Club? Advice to a woman entering a man's world

by Kellie Whitehead

Entering a male-dominated workplace? It’s more than likely, outside of education, healthcare, retail setting, and a handful of other industries that this is what you will face as you work your way up the career ladder. As we see more women moving into the STEM space recently, and excitingly, we have to note that these environments are likely to still be run and operated by men. A workplace free of gender bias can still feel like a pipe dream.

Historically, women in male dominated environments can feel a lack of support, personally and financially (yes, we are still getting paid less to do the same job) feelings of incompetence, mistreatment and a general lack of voice.

We are where we are, right? It’s brilliant that the workplace gender-split is being amplified, initiatives to help women reach board level and other strategies to increase female representation at every level are happening, we have a long way to go. Great for future generations, but as a woman navigating a career NOW – I wanted to share withs you some advice on working in a male-dominated industry or environment.

Remember – nothing should hold you back simply dependent on gender alone. You have your job based on merit and the value that our professional skills bring to a company. It’s important to understand your rights in law on this if you ever feel discriminated against purely on your status as female. A good employer will have solid policies and procedures for reporting, disciplinarily and feedback. Know your rights and use them.

Knowledge is power – use it! You have trained and qualified, or simply have a wealth of experience or knowledge in your field. Use this to empower yourself and know that you have the advantage over those who do not. People look up to those who know more than them – you are that person. This does not diminish because you lead as a woman and impart it down to men.

Find your tribe - You may be the only woman on your team, floor or even in the building, or there may be a few of you around. Either way, a support network of other women is vital to success. No ‘80’s style ladder climbing or ‘clawing your way to the top’ - you know the types. Pity them, because I guarantee they will be the loneliest women in a room. Is there a professional networking organisation in your specific field or anything similar? If not, start one! Meet a colleague for regular coffee and chat, a chance to vent, relax, share experiences and ideas. It can be as simple as that. There are all-female networking opportunities all around us now. Do not be shy to approach and contribute

Stand in your power – It's not about being better than the men, simply about embracing your unique skills and talents and owning your credentials, especially in your first managerial role, or move into another area. You must never feel ‘less than’ purely based on gender or being the only woman at the table. You are there for a reason.

Use your voice – Don't allow yourself to be spoken down to, or your opinion and contributions be silenced. You may feel you have to work harder to be heard, but make sure that you do.

There WILL be male allies – find yours! I hate the idea of painting all men with the same brush. In every aspect of life there are good people and bad people. Don’t forget that whilst true female empowerment is making great strides globally, there are millions of men being brought up and taught by women and being educated along the way. There are some superb male leaders out there who are fully sympathetic to the challenges faced by women in a male dominated industry. The healthiest workforce is one made up of a diverse team who get along and support each other – irrespective of nationality, beliefs or gender. These men will be your friend, colleague and advocate for you and other females.

Focus on role models – There is nothing like a mentor – someone who is further along your path or whom you look up to for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we are the first from our families to take a specific path and it is hard for our mothers, aunts, grandparents etc to relate. This can feel lonely, so seeking out the tribe is more important than ever. Less about friendship, a female mentor or role model in your field or similar will be an amazing ally for you to have. Seek out mentoring opportunities any chance you have. If you don’t have access to any formal schemes, don’t be shy to approach people yourself and build up a professional relationship with the, you can but ask!

Lift as you climb – Look out for the other women in your business or company. They are where you once were and the sisterhood that I describe above, remember to pass it on. We owe it to each other to lift as we climb. There is no room in female empowerment for the selfish or un collaborative woman. Pay forward any opportunities that help you navigate the male workplace dynamic, share your experiences and advice – you were there once!

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