Get Well

Here’s How to Work in a Male-Dominated Industry—According to Women Who’ve Done It

by Susie Benitez

We’re not ones to shy away from a difficult conversation here at The Chill Times. Whether we’re talking about managing anxiety or nuanced subjects like gender, pleasure, and sexual health, we strive to create a safe place where no subject is too awkward or embarrassing to discuss. Often times, these are the issues that need our attention the most and in times like these, we seek security and acceptance in the beautiful communities we’ve formed with other women. So when the topic of being a woman in the workplace, especially in a male-dominated one, arose from our community of readers, we knew we had to tackle it.

For the past 40 years, there has been a steady increase of women entering into male-dominated fields, with some sectors like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) seeing jumps as big as 243 percent in specific roles like test development engineering. It’s pretty safe to say that things are looking up.

However, according to a Cornell study as recently as 2017, women in male-dominated careers are still significantly more likely to face challenges like a lack of support (both emotionally and financially, such as issues with equitable income), an image of incompetence, and lack of a voice. All of this is happening in 2018? Still? With movements like #MeToo and phrases like “girlboss” becoming part of the everyday vernacular both in and out of the workplace, why do issues like these keep rearing their ugly head? Unfortunately, that’s something we’re all still trying to deal with as a nation—but there is hope. As research suggests, the trend of women entering predominantly male-dominated fields is steadily rising, so women are out there accepting the challenge, rising to the occasion, and ultimately, making a difference.

In honor of Women’s Equality Day that occurred this past Sunday, I wanted to talk to women who are doing just that and venturing into a career in a male-dominated field, and ask them what do you do? What has it been like? And perhaps most importantly—do you have any advice for the rest of us?

So if you’re thinking about life in a male-dominated career path, if you’re in one already, or if you just need some pretty awesome advice to stick in your back pocket, this one is for you.

Stand Up For Yourself

Clara*, 24, used to work at an ad agency in Los Angeles where the work environment wasn’t exactly equal. The CEO insisted that he wanted “Mad Men vibes,” for their forthcoming web launch, and if you know anything about Mad Men, it’s that things during that time weren’t really in favor for women. “Don Draper isn’t known to be the most feminist of male characters,” she continued, “so I was always trying to switch the vision and give my opinion on how [the work culture] shouldn’t be like Mad Men. “[My boss] often overlooked the female point of view. I think this was because I was the only [woman] on the team at the time,” she admits. In advertising, this can happen pretty often. “My advice would be to never stop speaking up. Say what you really believe in, because your perspective is valuable, you have to remember that.” “It was hard to give him my opinion without being too harsh,” she laughed. Girl, we get it.

Hallie Crawford, certified career coach and founder of halliecrawford.com, says that this is key, especially if an unfair situation happens to comes your way. “If they are treating you unfairly without cause, it’s better to address the situation head-on, in a professional way,” Crawford explains. One of her key pieces of advice? “Asking permission to broach a difficult topic can be a great lead into a difficult conversation. It helps diffuse it up front.” So remember this before you think about blowing up at that colleague (or your boss—scratch that, especially your boss).

On the other hand, standing up for yourself doesn’t strictly have to mean being opinionated at work. Karli, 30, a veteran in the beverage brand industry, wishes she knew how to prioritize herself and her sanity during her early 20s—and she doesn’t mean, “throwing fruit in your bathtub and calling [everything] good,” she’s talking about the real deal. Her best trick is to schedule time with yourself at least three times a week. “[Schedule these alone times] in your calendar, and do whatever it is you need to reset,” she says. “Self-care isn’t selfish, use it to be your best self and [your] family, friends, [and] your team will thank you for it.”

Trust Yourself and Your Gut

Reza, 22, was interning at a publication in which her boss sent her to the home of an accused rapist to cover a story —on her very first day. “I did not feel comfortable knocking on that person’s door, especially when he was arrested literally a day or so before for raping a minor in his hotel room,” she says. When she was called in later that week to speak with her boss, he did not understand her fear, or the fear many women feel, and actually, belittled the idea. “I remember leaving the conversation feeling small and crying,” she admits. While she stayed to finish out her internship, looking back on her experience she, “would highly recommend always listening to your gut. I will always listen to my intuition first before letting someone else feel the need to control my actions or mindset,” Reza stated.

Career counselor and coach Lynn Berger thinks that Reza did the right thing. “She did what she had to do, she trusted herself and her judgments,” she says. Berger brought up a good point by saying, “[A] lot of times people say ‘in retrospect, I thought of that but…’ and I say to just go [with] your initial instinct or gut feeling!” she began. “[Talk] with someone you trust [about the situation], it doesn’t have to be in the workplace. There’s always someone you can talk to, but at some point, people do need to act on their intuition and hunches.”

Dealing with Fear

At 15, Quinn, who is now 23, wrote the draft of what is now Blame, her first full-length screenplay, which she wanted to direct herself. When it was finally accepted after about a year and a half of pitching it, she and her family went all in. However, once shooting started, the investors ghosted. At this point in time, she was 20 and used all of the money from her college savings and bank account to continue finishing the movie. “I did all of the things they told me not to do,” she laughed. Against all odds, the movie got accepted at Tribeca Film Festival last year and launched Quinn’s career after only being funded and produced by her and her family. The main reason Quinn wasn’t put up against so many male executives (of which there are many in the film industry) throughout this process is simply because they didn’t believe in her in the first place. She didn’t let that deter her, though. In fact, it wasn’t a negative at all, it’s actually what allowed Quinn to take her career into her own hands. She was able to avoid the “old, white male producer trope” because it was really only her and her mom in charge, and “that’s why [the film] was so authentic.”

Now, going through all of this at such a young age, Quinn’s advice holds quite a lot of merit. Her main takeaway? “Go through the fear,” she states proudly, having done it so many times herself. “Do things that scare you over and over. At the end of the day, fear is the number one enemy of art.” As for women with non-art careers, she says, “young women are in fear of being ostracized or judged if they end up rising above their older male counterparts. Women are afraid of being intimidating, [because we] are taught that that’s wrong. In reality, that’s just some weird shit that people tell women to keep them down. It’s very important to recognize that you deserve the responsibility and the power that you’ve earned.” Talk about a mic drop.

Fight For Equal Pay

Talking about salaries in the workplace has always been a bit taboo, but it really shouldn’t be, not anymore at least. It would be a shame to write this article and not bring up the fact that on average, women get paid roughly 80 percent of what men do for the same position. In some states like Louisiana and Utah, the number is as low as 70 percent. So what should you do if you find out that you’re in a situation like this? According to a recent article by Girlboss, you should gather as much intel as possible about your case before doing anything else. You want to make sure you come in with the facts, not just rumors. Don’t be afraid to utilize your HR department for something like this as “large companies often have a breakdown of pay scales and should be able to tell you whether you land on the low or high end of the spectrum within the company.”

Once you have everything in order, your next step is to, “make it clear to your boss you want to talk about compensation.” Pro tip: “Avoid getting a flustered response or a brush-off from your manager by giving advance notice and allowing them to show up prepared as well.” It’s key to remember that a tricky conversation like this works both ways, whoever you’re going to discuss this with needs to be prepared as well. However, when it’s time for having the conversation, “be diplomatic but firm.” They suggest a direct opener like, “I’ve learned some information about compensation and I’d like to discuss [about it].” Easier said than done, I know, but it’s a crucial step in closing the gender wage gap and bringing you to a more equal standing in your own work environment.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

Women are constantly faced with such incredible pressure nowadays to be perfect in all aspects of life. So while it might seem rather obvious, the idea that mistakes are a completely normal part of any job needs to be restated. Victoria, 22, a food photographer, has had to remind herself that it’s okay to make mistakes while working with both photographers and chefs across the country. In both of the industries that she’s a part of, there are plenty of men who make her feel like what she’s doing is wrong simply because they don’t understand it. She explained to me that many chefs will criticize her food photography merely because they made the food and they think they know better. “Every person regardless of gender will make a mistake,” she says. If you mess up, that does not make you stupid, lessen what you know, or make people think that you can’t do your job. You simply have to acknowledge the mistake and move forward.” For Victoria, the best part about making mistakes is learning from them. “Use it to your advantage in the future!”

Carter, 20, a concert photographer, echoes this statement. The strength to speak to executives in the [music] industry comes from years of practice exposing yourself to awkward situations,” she says. Awkward silences, awkward hellos, waving to someone who doesn’t see you and being able to laugh about it—this is where your strength comes from.”

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Let’s be honest though, sometimes colleagues in any industry may not have the best intentions. Amy, 48, a small business owner, is an advocate for informing young women about what she calls the “wolf pack mentality.” “Oftentimes, these [packs] will be the men who lack something you have—empathy, intelligence, creativity, clients, etc.—and so [they] feel threatened or inadequate,” Amy explains. “So they turn to ostracize or even eliminating you, who they perceive as a threat.” After dealing with a situation like this herself, she channeled her energy into other interests and eventually left what became a toxic work environment to “write the rules” on her own. This, she says, has brought her joy and stability (oh, and plenty of success, too).

Carter has a great point on this topic as well. She suggests, “fully [invest] yourself in your friends and the people who care about what you do. If [your male co-workers] break you down, with words or side glances, you don’t feel fully alone in your head; you are allowed to be there.”

Berger absolutely agrees. “Of course, be friendly, but be smart,” she says. “Be aware of everything that’s going on and get off on the right track.” Sometimes it really is the simplest and most genuine advice that can impact you the most.

*Name has been changed.

Feature image via Stocksy 

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