Slow and steady wins the race, right? Well, for some women in the workplace, especially those operating in a male-dominated industry, it's more like slow and steady ties the race. Progression is prevalent, but leisurely, at best.
Milestones such as the Lean In movement, and the modernized ideal of women “breaking the glass ceiling” have gained media attention, highlighting advancements made in recent history.
On the contrary, finding yourself in the trenches of certain, less adaptive environments can sometimes illuminate the challenges which still exist, and reinforce the certainty that it's entirely up to us to evolve our present day. Here are six things I've learned from working in a male-dominated industry:
1. There are some advantages, but mostly disadvantages.
As with everything in life, being a minority in the workplace comes with its highs and lows. Recently I had the honor of attending an exclusive meeting with a high-powered female within my former company, a woman who ironically enough got her start in my position and furthermore, at my very office. Throughout our forum, we openly discussed the hardships that inevitably come alongside the possession of a vagina.
It was noted that, as women, we have the power to say "please." In my opinion, this works both for and against us in the professional realm. While I certainly have a “way” with my male colleagues, I realize I'm exuding a certain persona that I feel will ultimately get me what I want.
Women do this constantly. In fact, we're skilled experts at it. It reminds me of time Jessica Simpson asked “But it says chicken of the sea?”on MTV's "Newlyweds." We play a role that's non-threatening to men in order to achieve the end result required to move onward and upward. This comes at quite a price, as we're routinely dumbing ourselves down or playing up our lack of knowledge on the subject, to strategically advance our own position.
2. You'll quickly realize many will talk at you, instead of to you.
New York is old school, through and through. Thick skin is a basic necessity when finding yourself thrust into the cutthroat and belated environment of its enterprise.
Some tight-knit industries even pride themselves on this principle. Women, who were once better referred to as broads and secretaries, could never possibly acquire the competence in which its old-timers maintain. It's a catch-22 in every sense of the term. Questions largely go unanswered, concerns remain unacknowledged, and despite our greatest efforts, we somehow find ourselves right back where we began.
3. Women need to band together, which is easier said than done.
While I would indeed characterize myself as a feminist, I'll be the first to admit I don't take it to the extreme. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for equal opportunity and I'm pro-choice, but let's just say you won't find me ditching work to attend a Planned Parenthood rally.
Working in a male-dominated industry makes you appreciate your female co-workers on a new level. Even if they're unable to solve your problems, they can at least understand them in a way men simply can't.
On the contrary, it's easy to get caught up in all that flowing testosterone, and lose sight of the importance of collective female empowerment. I am personally guilty of judging a co-worker for changing her voice when talking to attractive men around the office (a full octave, at least), or writing off the busty blonde in our sister office as a snobby bitch.
Most women play the game, while others seek the change it. We must rise above the petty bullsh*t, and continuously remind ourselves that our fellow females are comrades, not competition.
4. Knowledge is power.
Ali ibn Abi Talib once said, “There is no wealth like knowledge, and no poverty like ignorance.” The only way to become truly great at your job, is to gain the knowledge you need to be self-reliant. You need to be able to walk into any room and challenge what's being said about your project in a way that makes people forget that you're a young woman and actually take you seriously.
So, dive in. Hit the streets, spend time with anyone and everyone who can aid in your personal growth. Pick their brains. Take notes. Put in the work, and the rewards are sure to follow.
5. You'll find help in unexpected places.
Attempting to navigate your way through a male-dominated industry, especially one that relies heavily on technical knowledge for true proficiency, is a struggle in and of itself. As someone whose brain aligns more so with intellectual and emotional-based competencies, this has been extremely trying.
As mentioned previously, some of your co-workers will prefer to maintain indispensability by withholding their expertise. Even more disheartening is the fact that your direct superiors, the people whose job it is to help you prosper, are all too often the most aloof and disengaged from your professional progress, especially in a large corporation. That being said, help is always there to those who ask for it. It's just usually not from the people and in the places we should expect.
Ask questions. If you can't find the information you need from the people you theoretically should receive it from, look elsewhere. Be relentless in your pursuit of achievement. No one will care as much about your success as you.
6. Your female superiors will either be your saving grace or your worst nightmare.
I recently left a great job for an even greater opportunity with a competitor. Upon my resignation, I had the harrowing experience of sitting down with my sales manager to review my decision, and allow for a few last jabs before I left.
Female superiors can make or break your career. Period. A strong-willed, truly involved supervisor can offer guidance in a manner no man can replicate. Unfortunately though, we're not always so lucky.
Some women in power develop complexes in their role, and forget what it was like when they were just starting off. They will touch you with a velvet glove, critique your outfits over your abilities and offer backhanded compliments with a disingenuous giggle.
The last words spoken were, “Well, good luck. You're a very good actress,” with an unsettling cackle. I raised up out of my seat, flashed one last fake smile and walked out of her office.
As the distance grew, my smile legitimized. I'd taken the resources I was provided with (from certain co-workers who I will miss insatiably), and leveraged it into something better. For that, I'll always be thankful. For now, I'm off to the City of Angels, and I'm content knowing I'll be in the right place for me, equipped with a back-up plan.