Even in our fast-paced world, some things take longer to change. One hundred and fifteen years after the Suffragettes fought for the right to vote, many women still aren’t treated equally in all areas of society. The workplace is one area where these disadvantages are apparent. Certain fields like tech, finance and politics are still dominated by men. However, you can help to change this. Here’s how!
Some traditional gender norms contribute to hostility to women in some industries. Social norms in your community or even ideas from your family may contribute to the notion that certain fields are solely the domain of men. As a young woman, you may want to work in a certain field against the norm, but are discouraged by the lack of female role models. The gender imbalance then perpetuates itself in a relentless cycle. If you don’t see a woman like you in the field you want, try your best not to allow gendered stereotypes to affect your career ambitions. If you know you can excel at a job, go for it.
Sometimes you may experience pushback when entering a male-dominated industry. Some men won’t appreciate a woman entering what they see as a boys’ club. This may be because they’ve never expected a woman to be interested or knowledgeable about the field, or because of unrealistic, unfair expectations, they have about all females sticking to roles with less power.
Aim for excellence in your role, stay professional in all your interactions, and demand the same from others. If you experience micro-aggressions from men (or other women!) regarding your looks or competence as a female – respond calmly and ask the person to explain why they feel this way. Describe how their behaviour or words are disrespectful, then offer an alternative way of thinking. However, if you are subjected to verbal or sexual harassment, keep a record of it and report it to HR.
Men who are assertive in the workplace are often seen as “authoritative” or “dominant,” while similarly assertive women are often unfairly labelled as “bossy.” Don’t allow yourself to be silenced. Speak up, say what you mean and ask for what you want. You deserve to be listened to and taken seriously.
It is nice to be liked in the workplace, but not at the expense of being respected. If you find yourself apologizing to people regularly – for things that aren’t even your fault – check in with yourself. Your need to appease people and avoid conflict may signal to others that they can take advantage of you without consequence.
Women working in male-dominated industries often find that they need to work harder than men to prove their competence. Embrace the challenge and actively seek opportunities to demonstrate your worth. As one of relatively few women in your industry, your unique perspective can ultimately prove to be an advantage.
Don’t allow fear of failure to hold you back from speaking your mind and getting things done. Women and men will be scrutinized for their quality of work, regardless of their field. Some failure is inevitable – note where you made a mistake, learn a new way of doing things and grow from the experience.
Build a Network
There is strength in numbers. By joining women’s associations, you can gain access to a wealth of support, networking opportunities and mentorship. Social media can also be invaluable for finding community and seeking advice. Facebook groups or niche forums may be casual and free, but the connections you forge could prove life-changing.
Become a Mentor
When you have achieved success in your career, consider becoming a mentor to female newcomers to your industry. Sharing your knowledge and experience with a mentee can be hugely enriching for both parties. It’s not about excluding people outside your gender or considering women better than men – but rather about sharing encouragement, wisdom, and knowledge with younger women who are going through similar experiences as you experienced years ago.
Many young women feel that they are weaker or inadequate compared to their male peers. As a mentor, you can help these future entrepreneurs, business leaders, and team members to refocus. Instead of dwelling on negative comments or fears, women can pour all their energy into developing and strengthening their unique talents, innovative ideas and work ethic.
Treat yourself and other women with deep respect and teach them to do the same. Stand up for your teammates if you see them subjected to microaggressions based on their gender. If you notice other women making a mistake or fearful of aggressive colleagues, dispel judgmental thoughts and instead build them up with encouragement and your industry knowledge.
No individual woman can dismantle years of systemic oppression or change all the minds of people who have grown up thinking females are not built for certain industries. But you can play a positive part in bringing hard work, positivity, and fairness to your workplace for a more equitable future.