Professional Development

How women can navigate male-dominated fields

women working in male dominated careers

Who run the world? You know the answer.

Women aren’t just phenomenal mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and friends any longer — they’re also must-have experts in the work environments that were once dominated by men. And while it’s taking some industries longer than others to catch up, it’s worth noting that progress has been made.

Diverse workplaces benefit the employer, staff, and the consumer in a number of ways. Employers have access to their employees’ varied outlooks, broad backgrounds and creativity in problem solving. And as women take on challenging roles in once male-dominated niches, they’re learning how to navigate a predominantly male-influenced field. In doing so, they’re helping brands discover how to make the environment hospitable to more diverse populations and how to make products that speak to varied consumers.

This is perhaps most noteworthy in career paths in the STEM sector.

In tech, for example, women are changing their work landscape for the better. After all, women aren’t just working in tech fields. Women are also tech users. Having women in product development and marketing leads to better insights into how to attract and keep female customers. It also helps tech companies gain insights as to what products women need.

“Hiring for diversity means onboarding different methods and strategies of thinking, as well as the increased capability to understand the pain points of all members of your target demographic,” write the experts at Mondo. When you have a diverse staff, you’re more able to meet the needs of new users, or better solve problems in your own organization.

There is of course still a long way to go. In cybersecurity for example, women have made a huge impact but still make up only 11 percent of the workforce.

The reasons for this are abundant, of course. Fewer women graduate with STEM degrees due to a number of factors, ranging from socialization to gender bias, to discrimination. But the problem exists in the workplace itself as well. Many women report having to endure a workplace environment that is akin to a “good ol’ boys club,” are expected to work long hours that are not conducive to raising a family, and experience derogatory and sexist comments in the workplace.

“Corporate culture is often less accessible to women for very clear historical reasons: the modern workplace was built around the assumption of a nuclear family with a working father and a stay-at-home mom, and for as much as our society has changed, that model is still assumed in workplaces across America,” Liz Elting writes for Forbes. “The result is a culture that excludes all but a specific type of employee and isn’t actually good for anyone.”

While it’s not up to women to single-handedly upend systems that are centuries old, there are many things women can do to make their workplaces more hospitable. So how can women best navigate their day-to-day participation in male-dominated fields?

Seek out other women for support

First, it’s important that women seek out others in their industry and in their specific job to connect with. Part of the reasons that “boys clubs” still exist because they offer a valuable asset: solidarity. Boys clubs offer professional support, opportunities for advancement, mentorship, and so much more—all of which are worthwhile and useful to women in the workplace.

While you shouldn’t sequester yourself completely, it’s highly valuable to be around like-minded women who are going through the same experiences as you are who can offer these same kinds of benefits—though it’s certainly easier said than done.

“[This] requires support from the company’s female leadership such as it exists,” Elting continues. “But if you can enlist the right members of management or executive teams, you can begin structuring your own ‘girls’ club,’ so to speak, that provides women with our own professional opportunities.”

Elting elaborates by noting that while this might seem like a forced action, it’s important to remember that these boys clubs don’t exist by accident. “They are power structures that were constructed to ensure a certain kind of person rises to the top: someone who is ‘one of them.’” Therefore, it only makes sense that while these structures exist in the workplace, that women create the same opportunities for mentorship and advancement themselves.

Advocate for a better work/life balance

As Elting said, many of these male-dominated environments still operate under the assumptions that men are the primary breadwinners in their families. For women with families and work lives, this can cause a problem.

In a recent survey by the career site Indeed, work-life balance was was cited by 14.4 percent of respondents as a reason they chose to leave their respective industries. An additional 2.3 percent noted that inadequate parental leave policies forced them to find new lines of work. Of those who already have children, 28 percent of women believe they’ve been passed up for advancements in their careers because they’re a parent with outside responsibilities.

Advocating for more inclusive work policies, such as flexible scheduling, better child care services, maternity leave, and more can help groups of women keep their positions and advance in the workforce.

Companies, of course, can work to create these kinds of policies on their own, and it’s been proven to work.

Tech company Alibaba has a workforce made up of more than 40 percent women, and six of the company’s founders were female. In 2018, Bank of America was a winner of the AnitaB.org Top Companies for Women Technologists award. IBM has been hiring women since 1899, and they were a winner of the 2018 Catalyst Award, honoring their role in helping women advance in business.

By creating cultures of diversity in their workplaces, companies, their employees, and their customers all benefit. Amplifying these diverse voices and supporting those who have previously been unheard in these industries will create bountiful opportunities for generations to come.

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on twitter @ HamiltonJori.

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