Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Since the eighties there has been a migration of women into positions previously dominated by males. Industries such as engineering, finance, construction, etc. have seen an influx of women that are succeeding in these industries. Success for women in these male dominated industries takes hard work. Research has shown that women have to work ten times harder than their male counterparts to get noticed in these jobs.  This invariably has an effect on the quality of life for the families of these women. Below are a few tips from Roxanne Rivera who succeeded in the male dominated construction industry. She served as CEO and president of this company for 22 years; therefore she really knows what she is talking about and has had first-hand experience. She has written a book called “There’s no crying in business” that deals with how to succeed as a woman in a male dominated industry.

Gone are the days when women were concentrated in lower paying service jobs like waitressing, retail workers and administrative assistants. Now more and more women are holding high level and high paying jobs in previously male dominated industries such as mining, agriculture, hunting, fishing & forestry as well as construction. Being a success in these industries for women requires a lot of joggling especially if the woman has children and a husband to look after. Our society is still skewed towards men in terms of career advancement. Women still suffer penalties in their jobs for absence due to child bearing and rearing that men don’t. Women doing the exact same job as men still get paid up to 40% less than their male counterparts. Men seem to be paid more for the mere fact that they have a child and or family to support. Below are a few tips that you can use as a woman to get ahead in the workplace, especially those that are dominated by men.

One of the challenges faced by women in previously male dominated industries is making their value known. The “old boys club” is still alive and kicking in the workplace and for a woman to stand out and make themselves known can seem daunting, if one plays by men’s rules. Women possess qualities that are sometimes lacking in men, which invariably menas that these might be lacking in the organization. Female attributes such as multi-tasking, empathy, listening, communication etc can help you stand out from the crowd. A lot of women think that they need to change who they are and act more manly when working in a male dominated environment; forgetting that what makes them unique is the fact that they are female. It’s okay to tap into these qualities especially if they are lacking in the organization. They can be the catalyst that propels you to being noticed as a person of value by your co-workers and bosses. It is important that you investigate and identify any resources that might be lacking in your organization. You then can do everything in your power to ensure that your bosses are aware that you are in possession of a critical and scarce skill in the organization. This is how you make yourself invaluable to your organization.

Communication is one of the most important tools for getting ahead in a male dominated job. Understanding the different ways in which men and women communicate can provide female employees with leverage and make it easier for them to work with both male and female colleagues. Understanding both verbal and non-verbal communication is crucial in the workplace. For example, men tend to seek straightforward solutions to problems, whereas women are more likely to delay getting to the point by telling a story first to establish intimacy and empathy for a situation. Being able to understand and interpret these communication traits will put you at an advantage in any work situation. Body language is important and men do tend to be more direct with it. They are not afraid to check their watch and wrap things up in a meeting to leave for lunch. Or tap their feet when they don’t get the information they want quickly. Women on the other hand express their listening skills by nodding, which is usually perceived as a sign of attentiveness.

Men often value direct statements, where people “tell it like it is,” whereas women tend to be “polite,” which others can perceive as “beating around the bush.” Differences impact giving and receiving orders, constructive criticism, even compliments. Women can practice being more direct; determine “musts” and “mights.” On giving feedback or criticism, be specific. Stick to the facts, keep it brief, criticize the work, not the person, and put it in writing.
We send messages with our facial expressions, gestures, posture, rate, volume, and tone of our voice, door open vs. closed, style of dress, eye contact, etc. Mixed messages occur when our verbal and nonverbal acts don’t match. Learn to recognize and control your nonverbal signals; understand the nonverbal messages of others. Check out your perceptions when signals don’t match. Sit and stand up straight yet relaxed. Clarify if you nod in agreement or to signal that you are listening but may not agree. Bring signals up to clarify what’s going on.

One of the biggest challenges that faces women in the workplace, as well as in their personal lives, is the ability to say no. Women tend to have a problem saying no when asked to do more and sometimes feel guilty when they do so. “One of the things you’ll learn when you start to say no is that you’ll earn the respect of your colleagues,” says Rivera. “They'll see that you know what you have on your plate and what you can capably take on.”

How does one learn to say no? It’s important to set priorities. “Identify what really matters in your life, and focus on how to achieve it,” Rivera says. Next, create boundaries based on those priorities, but also decide whether you’re willing to make exceptions in situations that can benefit you. And learn to delegate. “Women try to do everything themselves,” Rivera says. But delegating work to colleagues or subordinates doesn’t mean you’re trying to get out of work. It frees you up to do what you’re good at or what will help you achieve your goals. Explain why you’re delegating a task and what you expect out of it, then set a deadline and get out of the way. “Don’t look over the person’s shoulder, don't micromanage, and express thanks when the assignment is complete,” she says.

She also advises women not to try to be perfect. “I estimate that at least 50% of highly successful women in male-dominated professions are perfectionists," Rivera says. “That’s a good thing, because attention to detail is important in any job. But lavishing all your attention on tiny details can prevent you from taking risks, and taking risks is what gets you ahead.”

The very same communication behaviours can be perceived as assertive when performed by a man and as aggressive when performed by a woman. This is a tough issue, because it’s difficult to break stereotypic thinking by both genders. Asserting your needs, wants, ideas, and conflicts at work is usually better than letting everything go unnoticed. Back up your verbalized assertions by putting them in writing, if others don’t fully understand or take you seriously. Give it time to soak in when what you communicate may be difficult for others to accept. Avoid blowing up or restating your needs repeatedly in the same meeting. Remain calm, breathe, and take a break to keep things in perspective.

If you’re a woman working in a male-dominated environment, try the above strategies with your male co-workers and direct reports.

Below is a story of a woman who has worked in a male-dominated career for 20+ years. She shares tips on how she has been successful.
Dawn R, a senior designer, started her career as a mechanical drafter over 20 years ago, after completing a one-year technical school program. She was, and still is, in a non-traditional career. Working in the engineering department with mostly men has had its challenges over the years. Despite those challenges, Dawn is in a career which she finds very satisfying.

As a 20 year-old and the only woman in her department, Dawn endured many negative comments from her male counterparts. She acknowledges that women in a non-traditional career have to work harder than men. Over the years, Dawn has found that it’s important to be herself, but to try to fit into her surroundings. If she stands up for herself like the men do, she gains respect.  “Proving herself” was a key factor in being accepted by her male co-workers. Once they could see she was interested in doing a good job, and could do a good job, they slowly began to accept her. Dawn has found that being firm and in command, but not overbearing has worked well for her over the years.

Dawn has survived many rounds of layoffs which she attributes to keeping her head down and always working. When a challenge arises, she accepts it, but isn’t afraid to ask for help when she feels overwhelmed. Dawn believes that sexual harassment happens everywhere. She finds that married men are more apt to sexually harass. Bringing up the husband’s wife’s name into the conversation generally stops the harassment. If she can’t stop it on her own, Dawn goes to her manager. Dawn has found that professional dress is important. She notices that people will talk about and not respect those who wear skimpy outfits. However, the bottom line is the need to know her stuff. Through hard work and by building her skill level, Dawn has rose through the ranks to senior designer, which includes supervisory responsibilities. She was eventually offered a promotion to engineer, a position usually held by those with a four-year degree.

As women we need to always know and understand who we are, what we bring to table in an organization, to ensure that we are taken seriously by our bosses and colleagues. Gone are the days when women we expected to only do certain types of jobs. More and more women are working in male dominated fields. Women need to understand that they do not need to change who they are to fit in with the men. We need to act as ourselves so that our teams can accept us for who we are.

Another thing is, there is always a reason why a company chooses to appoint you as a woman in a job normally done by a man. Don’t take that vote of confidence from your employer lightly. Know that there is a reason why you were hired and make sure that you deliver because at the end of the day, the only way to shut your critics up is by being excellent at what you do.

By Ziyanda Xaso


  1. Wow I am speechless, these are absolutely a great words of wisdom.

  2. Thank you for this insightful article on how men and women think and act differently.