From tech to construction to marketing, women are making inroads into industries that have been dominated by men for decades. This change is resulting in more vibrant, diverse companies which are more flexible and nimble in areas that are being rapidly disrupted. It is also, however, exposing cultures that have been unchallenged in their toxic male state simply because girls weren’t allowed to play.
If you’re a woman pushing your way into one of these fields, you may wonder how to survive in a world that was created for the convenience of men. The answer is more than avoiding uptalk or not saying “Does that make sense?” The answer revolves around finding a way to be comfortable in the established culture while also changing the culture for the better.
Many industries have been traditionally gendered, and women have been unwelcome in those spaces. Women are pushing into these spaces in unprecedented numbers, however. The challenge facing these women is how to work together to make work environments more hospitable for all of us, rather than treating each individual situation as a silo.
Don’t Wait For Your Turn
Women are often socially trained to be patient, speak when there’s an opening in the conversation, and to avoid talking over anyone else. This doesn’t work well in a group of men. As a woman, you will need to make sure to speak up clearly, use a strong, clear voice, and be willing to talk until you are listened to. Once you get the floor, be willing to keep talking over interruptions instead of yielding the floor.
Pick Your Battles
In cultures that have been primarily full of men, there are certain behaviors and ways of thinking that may have become accepted. As a woman in that space, you may need to see what you can tolerate, and what you can’t. You might be okay with off-color jokes, for instance, but not be okay with calendars showing sexualized images. Pick the battles you’re ready to fight.
That said, harassment shouldn’t ever be tolerated, and you should be prepared to support other women who are uncomfortable or frustrated in particular situations, even if you personally can tolerate the off-color jokes.
Don’t Let Yourself Be Made Into An Assistant
With or without intention, there’s a certain trend towards viewing women in male-dominated industries as secretaries, assistants, and other “lesser” positions. It’s unfair, but women need to be careful about unintentionally letting themselves be seen as stereotypes in this way. Don’t offer to get the team coffee, don’t offer to grab someone else a sandwich while you’re out (unless it’s a regular, reciprocal thing), and don’t offer to be the one who takes notes.
Know Your Strengths
While everyone in a business environment benefits from knowing what they’re good at, it’s especially important for women in male-dominated workplaces to be familiar with what they’re good at. This helps you advocate for positions where you’ll excel and acknowledge the places where you’ll need more support and training.
Social training for women often involves deferring compliments and underplaying the things we’re good at. If there’s a single thing you can do to thrive in a workspace dominated by men, it’s to unlearn this bit of socialization.
If you get complimented on something, say thank you. If you’re good at something, say so. That’s not to say you should avoid acknowledging good team work, or a place where it’s really your team that excelled while your job was primarily facilitation and organization. But say thank you before you say that your team deserves just as much credit as you do (not “all the credit.” Big difference).
Look For A Mentor
Many women in business have said that their number one tool for success is learning from other women who have already been there and done that. These women have been ground breakers in their fields, and in many ways, they are making it easier for other women to follow in their footsteps. Many successful women are more than willing to mentor those coming along behind them. Reach out and find a mentor to help you succeed.
Support Other Women
And while you’re looking for a mentor, look for other women who are still struggling with things you can now manage. Help them find their way through the difficulties of breaking in to new industries. And if you are a white woman, be even more aware that women who are multiply marginalized – who are women of color, disabled, or LGBTQIA, for example – face specific challenges in the workplace that heterosexual, CIS gendered white women may not experience. If they say a problem is happening, believe them, and offer them your support.