For years, pundits have outlined the need to incorporate more diverse voices in traditionally male-dominated industries. Fields such as technology, medicine, and business leadership have struggled to recruit and retain women on their staff.
This gap exists for a number of reasons, but one of them, research has shown, exists because of the environment in which women are required to work. Women often report feeling as though they are operating in an environment that feels like a "good ol' boys club," that their opinions are not respected among male peers, and that they cannot maintain an appropriate work-life balance. Additionally, many of them deal with workplace harassment.
This lack of diversity has had extreme consequences on those industries:
Certain AI technologies have proven to have racist and sexist tendencies.
Clinical trials run by male medical staff often don’t include female patients, causing a number of negative health effects for female patients.
Companies across every industry that don’t have women on staff have proven to be less profitable.
Many male-dominated workplaces make it uncomfortable, if not impossible, for women to have long and fulfilling careers in the fields that desperately need their fresh approach, problem-solving abilities, and unique life experience.
While it’s not women’s responsibility to change a toxic workplace culture on their own, there are ways, from within and outside of management, that women can navigate these spaces and have fulfilling and rewarding careers in the long run.
Seek Out Other Women in Your Field for Support
This can help you create a support network. These women can be in your general industry, women in leadership roles within the company you work for, or other women who also work in male-dominated fields.
In a recent profile of tech giant Microsoft published by the Seattle Times, one woman noted a feeling of isolation in her position, stating “I am surrounded by men and only men in most of my meetings.” It’s this sense of isolation that can make maintaining a position in a male-dominated industry so difficult.
One solution to that problem is to actively seek out people like you who share some of your experiences. In the tech industry especially, mentorship and sponsorship are key to keeping women in these integral positions. Research shows that having a powerful female role model in a leadership position will help other women in the company feel more comfortable with the idea that they, too, can attain a leadership role within the company.
Advocate for a Better Work-Life Balance
Another reason many women struggle in male-dominated spaces is due to a culture of overwork. This is especially true for working mothers. In a number of male-dominated industries, it is common that people work overtime and after hours.
“Corporate culture is often less accessible to women for very clear historical reasons,” Liz Elting writes for Forbes. “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. The result is a culture that excludes all but a specific type of employee and isn’t actually good for anyone.”
With working mothers also having the so-called “second shift” of coming home and taking care of children, no one benefits from improper work-life balance. The woman suffers from being overworked and burnt out; her children suffer from not having her full attention and energy; and co-workers suffer from decreased output and an overreliance on them to pick up the slack.
Women who work for small businesses should be especially careful to recognize signs of being overworked, as employees in small businesses are particularly prone to burnout. With fewer employees often working harder to make the business successful, combined with not having enough time to manage home life, a woman can very easily spiral into an unhealthy work-life balance.
Advocate for Yourself and Reclaim Your Space
As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.”
Part of this can also be imposter syndrome, where the woman does not feel she is worth her accomplishments and feels like a fraud in her industry. It’s not uncommon even among high-achieving women.
Again, strong female role models can help in this regard. They can help women feel they will not fail and were hired for a reason. A lack of role models can diminish confidence, which in turn can foster imposter syndrome.
Part of being successful in the workplace is to unlearn tendencies to shrink yourself and reclaim the space that is rightfully yours. Part of combating imposter syndrome is breaking the cycle of needing to achieve to feel accepted by the company or vice versa.
While this can be off-putting to some, it’s an idea that can make or break you in male-dominated spaces.
Take Advantage of Available Opportunities to Move Up
Women are statistically less likely to apply for positions if they feel underqualified for the position. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review Study indicates that women refuse to apply for positions unless they’re 100 percent qualified.
Despite not feeling qualified, women should take advantage of every opportunity available to them. Perfection is not necessary; having skills is. It can’t hurt to apply, after all, and should you obtain the position, other women may see that it is possible to advance, bolstering the entire workforce of women in the company.
Ask for Constructive Feedback Early and Often
Without feedback, it can be harder to improve your performance. Studies show that women are statistically less likely to receive feedback from their managers and superiors, meaning they’re more likely to be passed over for promotions.
By asking for feedback early and often, women can find out the exact requirements and expectations of the job they currently have. They also can have a better idea of what it will take to move forward in the companies that they’re in.
Women face an uphill battle in the workplace, especially in male-dominated industries. While it’s hard to fight imposter syndrome, it’s possible to find a support group of other women, especially those already in leadership roles. It’s also vital that you be an advocate for yourself when it comes to maintaining a healthy work-life balance in order to avoid burning out. Solicit feedback and use it to better yourself. Apply for better positions in the company. While you may not think you are qualified, it can’t hurt — and you might be surprised to find you have the skills necessary. From that leadership position, you can help other women, having proved you are right for the job.