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Are you a woman in a male-dominated environment? Here are four ways you can establish yourself

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

Being in the minority is rarely easy. When you’re one of few women in a male-dominated workplace, making your presence known can often pose a challenge – especially without a support network of fellow female workers to lift each other up.

It’s all well and good to advise women in this position to lean in, but the sad reality is that lack of respect, archaic sexist attitudes and an institutionalised “bro-culture” can see a talented woman quickly lose passion, motivation and momentum in her career. If that wasn’t bad enough, the performance of most women in male-dominated environments is often put under a microscope; their work held up to impossible standards by male colleagues who may never have had to prove themselves as capable.  

While companies need to be held more accountable for how many women are being hired and promoted, we can’t sit and wait for the glass ceiling to chip over time. Joining a male-dominated industry, like engineering, IT or construction can be intimidating. So can working in a predominantly male office. In this environment, women may have to challenge the status quo and have their voices heard.

Focus on you

Working in an environment with few female colleagues and a distinct lack of role models can often feel like an uphill battle: no matter how hard we work “behind the scenes” it seems our male colleagues get all the recognition for adding the cherry on top at the end of a project. Disheartened, defeated and demotivated, we pour all our energy into proving ourselves as equal to our male counterparts.

If we are to break the cycle and establish ourselves in this arena, we must concentrate on consistently making ourselves invaluable and honing our skills rather than focusing on how others are seen in the business. Our sense of completion should not come from the outside, and we should not let anyone else make us feel as though we are incapable or not worthy to perform a certain task – this will only slow us down.

Promote your achievements

Afraid to come across as cocky or arrogant, women in the workplace are too quick to downplay their achievements. Unfortunately, this is often to the detriment of our own career progression – especially when working in a male-dominated environment.

Yes, in an ideal world, our work would speak for us – but as a manager looking to promote a member of staff, our instincts would naturally steer us away from choosing someone who claimed their achievements were happenstance or someone who made a point of reminding us of everyone else’s input over their own.

It’s one thing to give credit where due to those who played a pivotal role in reaching a certain goal, but if you were the one primarily responsible for a successful project, own it. Your aim is to inspire confidence in your abilities, but if you want others to acknowledge your talent, the first step is to recognise it yourself.

Don’t hesitate to be direct

Whether due to insecurity about being in the minority or pre-established “rules” surrounding gender roles, women are less likely to use direct communication in a professional environment. Instead, we often add qualifiers to “water down” what we are about to say, for example: “I’m not sure if this makes sense, but” or “I’m really sorry to ask you, but…”

Meanwhile, our male colleagues come right out with whatever it is that’s on their mind, whether or not it’s the right time or the right thing to say. If your communication comes across as insecure or nervous, practice being assertive. Remember, you have every right to be there, and you don’t need to apologise for voicing your opinion or enforcing the importance of a task or project.

Challenge where necessary

When you’re in the minority, challenging the opinion of a colleague can be nerve-wracking, even if management have encouraged this behaviour to promote innovation. If we speak up, we worry we will come across as abrasive, rude or hostile and we assume the majority of the room will disagree anyway.

This lack of courage and self-belief is usually a by-product of working in a male-centric environment; we learn from our experiences and so we become more and more withdrawn with every working day.

But that’s no way to live. Should we have a brilliant idea or see a flaw in someone else’s logic; should we see a more efficient route to take or a solution that hasn’t been suggested, we should speak up for the sake of making an impact in the business. The more we push ourselves to do so, the more our value in the workplace will be recognised by those who had any doubt that we were capable.

Over the last 20 years, we have grown as a business to become one of the leading independent Recruitment agencies in Oxfordshire, and in 2018 have opened our first London office, to service Clients in the capital.    

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