By: Aleksandra Mihajlovska
Yes, Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President of the United States, was just sworn into office. We should celebrate this milestone! But for Millennial women working in male-dominated fields where the boys’ club is still somehow a thing, a workplace free of gender bias can seem like a pipe dream.
It’s also true that in the past 40 years, we have seen a steady increase of women entering male-dominated STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) — another milestone to celebrate. However, according to a Cornell University study, women in male-dominated careers face challenges such as:
- Lack of support (both emotional and financial).
- Feeling incompetent.
- Lack of a voice.
While there are reasons to think the workforce is moving in the right direction, many women are not yet experiencing the benefits. So how can individual women thrive in male-dominated industries?
Perhaps the best approach is to ask individual women who have done it. And that’s what I did! In what follows, I offer four practical tips from and for women in male-dominated fields.
1) Focus on the positive.
Of course, you will face challenges as you try to master a male-dominated workplace. Is it fair? Absolutely not. But focusing on the positive can help put your challenges into perspective.
Imagine for a moment being the female Campus Director for a school offering vocational training in welding and fabrication. It doesn’t get more male-dominated than this. What would it take for you to come to work every day ready to lead with confidence in such an environment?
Crystal Quintero, Campus Director at Southern Industrial Career Centers (SICC), doesn’t have to imagine it, because this is her reality. Here’s how she focuses on the positive:
Knowledge is power in a male-dominated field. As Director, I present the advantages of the welding field to prospective students. Knowing so much about such a male-dominated field makes me feel empowered, and making students eager to learn makes my job all the more satisfying.
2) Find a group of women who can support you.
Whether you’re the only woman at your firm or one of a handful of women scattered throughout various departments, it is essential that you find a strong group of women who can support you. This group can help you strategize, meet your goals, learn to negotiate, and give you a safe space to vent your frustrations.
Here are some options to look into:
- Start an all-female networking or mastermind group at your office.
- Join an all-female business meet-up that meets before work.
- Industry associations often have sub-groups for women in the industry looking to collaborate with other women in the same field.
Going back to Crystal, she’s actually part of an all-female team at SICC. One of Crystal’s colleagues, Angie Keene, really appreciates the support she gets from the team:
What I most enjoy about working with an all-female team is that we can feel more relaxed, which makes it easier to communicate because we feel comfortable with each other. Also, being around brilliant smart women is always a plus; we learn from each other.
There are opportunities to build your “personal board of directors.” It may take time to find the right group, but don’t give up until you have found your tribe.
3) Keep your eye on role models.
Being a woman in a male-dominated field can be lonely. It can help to know you’re not alone, so find role models who know what you’re going through. These could be women in your life who are ahead of you on the path, or they could be famous women with wisdom to share through podcasts or blog articles.
Maria Maldonado, a Campus Admissions Representative at SICC, says:
The most important person to me is my mom. She taught me that just because you’re a woman, that doesn’t mean you can’t function without a man. As women, we are capable of doing the same and even more than a man.
Lily Maldonado, a Campus Admissions Representative/PRO at SICC, agrees:
My mother was born in a time and place where women weren’t allowed to ask for an education, where opportunities for females were scarce and to be free you had to break borders…or in her case cross them. Another lady in the industry that I find motivating is Teresita Fernandez. A visual artist best known for her amazing public sculptures and being one of the few female artists working with heavy steel, a medium once perceived as male domain.
4) Seek out men who can be allies.
Even in fields that are heavily male-dominated, there are men who want to be allies to the women they meet. Be on the lookout for these men and don’t be afraid to ask them for mentorship and advice.
How will you recognize them when you encounter them? Men who want to be allies in the workplace:
- Listen and amplify your opinions and thoughts during meetings.
- Speak up when they see gender bias.
- Go out of their way to praise your work in front of their colleagues.
- Advocate for you.
Because Eliud Medina, the Founder of SICC, read the research on how teams with more women perform better, he knew hiring women would be a smart move. He is an ally, a mentor, and a strong advocate for women in the welding industry. He says:
Having a team of awesome ladies in charge of managing the school keeps me in check. I know the women on my team feel empowered to share their opinions because they know I appreciate their perspective. It’s kind of like having a bird’s eye view when I’m deep into the subject!
As a Millennial woman in a male-dominated field, you are rare and brave. Embrace your unique position and put these tips to work for you!
Aleksandra Mihajlovska a theater actress and communications professional. She uses theater tools to work on personal and creative development of people of all ages, with a specific focus on youngsters, girls, and marginalized groups. She leads workshops on communication, conflict resolution, intercultural dialogue, and advocacy through arts.
Southern Industrial Careers Center is a vocational school dedicated to teaching industrial trades in welding and fabrication.