Management · May 06, 2021

How Women Can Navigate Male-Dominated Industries

From clergy to entertainment and financial services to software development, there remain male-dominated industries where women represent a minority of jobholders. If you're a woman in these fields, the tendency might be to think you have to change the very nature of who you are, including your behaviors and values, to survive.

But no one wants to merely survive in their chosen field of work. Instead, women can thrive in these industries through a combination of self-help and support, both designed to help you bring your full self to your job and advance in your career.

Putting imposter syndrome in its place

When you don't see other women in leadership roles in your field, you might question whether you're equipped for the challenge and deserve your role. Imposter syndrome—the inability to internalize and own your successes—is an unwelcomed but frequent visitor to women's professional lives. But it doesn't need to come with the negative impact you might have allowed it to have in the past.

When you feel imposter syndrome sneaking in and taking over your internal dialogue, make an intentional shift to focus on your past successes. You can think about the past projects you've had success with and how you were able to achieve those successes. You might also want to think about men in your company who have been afforded greater opportunities with even less experience than yours.

By checking in with intention when imposter syndrome bares its fangs, you can let it fuel, instead of stall, your professional progress.

Build a support network

When you're a woman forging her path in any of the male-dominated industries, it helps to share the path with other women beside you on your journey. Networks and mentorships can both give you a soft place to land and a safe place to strategize for success.

With networks, you can connect with women across a wide range of industries who share similar challenges while working in male-dominated fields. Beyond knowing that you're not alone in your journey, you can find a great resource of advice in networks, learning from other women on an upward career trajectory and strategizing about important topics for women, such as salary negotiation.

If your company offers employee resource groups, consider joining one to align with other women in your company. If not, you can look to national women's business organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners or the American Business Women's Association. You can even find local groups to connect with other women through a chamber of commerce and social media.

Mentorships offer the opportunity to learn from a woman who's been where you are and found success navigating her career advancement. It's even likely that this mentor will be in your same industry. A mentor can help remind you that it's possible for women to hold positions of power in your chosen field. Your mentor can also help hold you accountable as you set goals and experience setbacks along the way. National women's groups, industry trade organizations and even your employer can potentially help connect you with a mentor.

Seek out male allies

To combat harmful stereotypes and bias in male-dominated industries, it's critical for men to advocate for women in their organizations.

First, "queen bee" syndrome is a very real occurrence. This happens when women in upper management advocate for women in lower positions and are subsequently penalized for offering their support with lower competency ratings. The thinking is that these upper-level women are choosing women to champion because they're women. However, when men in upper management advocate for women in lower positions within a company, their competency ratings don't tend to suffer—instead, these men are seen as promoting diversity.

To help smooth your career path in male-dominated industries, build relationships with men at all levels of your organization. Seek out advice and ask unashamedly for opportunities. It can never hurt to have support for your success coming from both men and women in your company, and it will likely bolster your chances of ongoing success as you advance in your career.

For women choosing careers in male-dominated industries, the path to success might look quite different than one in a field where women make up the majority. However, by creating structures to support you mentally and professionally, you can become the leader you envision, and both you and your company will be better for it.


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