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3 Tips for Survival in a Male-Dominated Industry

Posted September 2, 2014 by Ali Lawrence in Women's Issues
As someone who works in search engine optimization (SEO), I know what it’s like to sit around a conference table and be the only female present.  In the beginning of my career, I felt self-conscious and probably didn’t contribute as much as I could have for fear of standing out even more. I’ve been lucky enough to never experience sexism in the workplace, so my issues were ones of self-confidence and self-realization (but I definitely know that isn’t the case for many female professionals).

I knew from personal relationships that I couldn’t change other people; I could only change the way I reacted to them. While it took me a few years to apply that to my professional life as well, it has made all the difference in professional development and moving up the ladder. Here are a few other tips to surviving in a male-dominated industry:

Find a (Wo)Mentor

Men may find it easier to reach the C-suite because they see models of that success all around them. It’s much harder for women to find models of success, and just mimicking the male version often comes across as disingenuous or unnatural.

The fact is, genuine leadership comes from our own personality, our own experiences and our own temperament. It is no use to become a mime of a male leader. Instead, look at the landscape around you and ask a female that you respect, one with a proven track record in her field, to mentor you.

This might be hard, depending on your industry, but you will be able to find someone.  For example, I work with a lot of construction companies on their SEO, and I’ve often thought it might be hard to be a female in the construction industry. While I’ve heard of Cleveland Brothers, I don’t see Cleveland Sisters!

Once you find a mentor, the goal is not that you copy her style. But she can help you avoid common pitfalls, give constructive criticism, and be a sounding board for you.

Expand Your Portfolio

No matter how supportive or “leaned in” your workplace is, you are not going to move ahead if you wait for someone to offer you a hand up the ladder.

Not used to giving presentations? Volunteer for the next client meeting.  Not on a project that has major growth potential? Ask your manager if you can join. Passed over for a promotion or assignment? Schedule a time to meet with the boss to ask what needs to be improved.

Communicate Clearly

My father has served as a workplace sounding board for me because of his years of management experience. He has often pointed out that, for someone in the general field of communications, I was pretty lousy about speaking directly at work. He knew from my teenage years, of course, that I had no problem speaking my mind at home!

He encouraged me to see that my word choice could be undermining my ideas and authority. I’m not “upset” with an employee; I’m telling him that he didn’t reach his goals in the timeframe we set. I’m not “helping out,” I’m “taking responsibility for the project.”

Once he pointed this out to me, I did notice how many women offer caveats or softer, more hesitant language than their male counterparts. For example, one woman on a conference call began almost every sentence with either “If I could just jump in here” or “Would I be able to add my thoughts here?”

Despite her title and experience, she inadvertently discounted her contributions by couching them in such deferential language. Being aware of word choice is critically important to conveying professionalism, competence, and gravitas in the workplace. If you need help in speaking in a professional manner and with confidence, consider joining Toastmasters or taking an online course on business soft skills.

Simply put, your ideas and experience will get you into the right job (if they don’t, you wouldn’t have wanted to work there anyway). Finding a mentor, expanding your work experience, and speaking like a leader will help move you to the C-suite where you belong.

About the Author

Ali Lawrence

Ali Lawrence is a content specialist for a web design company and blogs about online PR and marketing in her free time at MarCom Land. Her articles have been published by Brazen Careerist, Jobacle, and Business2Community. In her free time, Ali enjoys golfing, cooking healthy meals, and binge watching TV shows.