How to Excel in A Male-Dominated Industry

Almost every woman can tell you a story about a time in her career when she felt overlooked, undervalued, or discriminated against. Gender discrimination is real and it affects an estimated four-in-ten women every day at work. While these experiences can be found across the workforce in industries of all kinds, there’s a particular challenge for women navigating male-dominated spaces. If you are a woman learning how to excel in a male dominated industry, helps to follow tips from women who’ve done it.

According to Catalyst, an organization committed to building better workplaces for women, male-dominated industries are those that consist of 25% or less of women. They include industries like finance, tech, manufacturing, and engineering as well as trade occupations like plumbing, electrical, automotive, and construction. And throughout these industries, the gender gap often shifts and widens across experience levels. 

In finance, gender amongst entry-level workers is pretty equal. However, as you move up to the corporate ladder, the industry becomes heavily male-dominated. A 2021 McKinsey study found that the percentage of women holding positions drops more than half at the executive level

Other industries, like construction, are male-dominated across levels. The National Association for Women in Construction cited that women made up just 1.5% of the industry in 2018. And even in industries like manufacturing where the gap is closing, women still only make up fewer than one-third of all workers

Challenges Women Face 

It’s no secret that women have always faced challenges in the conventional workforce. American culture has struggled to support women, and working mothers in particular, with everything from wages to flexible schedules, career advancement to family leave. It’s visible in our federal policies–or lack thereof–and throughout both individual employer and industry culture overall.

But unlike professions where women dominate, think nursing, childcare, and hospitality, male-dominated spaces tend to lack women in leadership roles, struggle with helping women feel supported and valued, and magnify the typical societal beliefs about women and their abilities. Women in these industries deal with aggressive work environments (both passive and active), stress, and anxiety from the constant “othering”, and in the worst cases, sexual harassment on the job or in the field. 

These challenges contribute to a cycle that is hindering women from entering and thriving in these male-dominated spaces. Without representation, women considering one of these industries may choose another direction. And the continued lack of women in these professions further impacts the way the industry at large views women and their ability to contribute to the field. 

How to Excel in a Male Dominated Industry: 5 Tips

women engineer working in a male dominated industry

While these industries are highly male-concentrated, women deserve to occupy these spaces just as much. Although challenging, there are a few things you can do to ease some of the tension as you navigate your career.

1. Do your research on the industry.

Each male-dominated industry comes with its own unique set of challenges. Before deciding to enter an industry, take some time to understand what the main challenges of the industry are. In tech, for example, there’s the “bro culture” that seems to be one of the most challenging aspects of the industry. In engineering, on the other hand, low expectations of women and their abilities impact women and their opportunities for career growth. When you have a clear understanding of what you’ll likely be facing you can better prepare yourself for the challenges ahead.

2. Find good companies.

While the industry as a whole may have its issues, not all companies in these male-dominated spaces accept the status quo. When navigating your chosen industry, take some time to research companies that are doing great work to support their underrepresented employees. You want to look for companies in particular that highlight things that directly impact women like paid family leave and flexible spending accounts for health care, child care, or dependent care, and also other resources like career advancement support. It’s especially helpful to take a look to see if there are women in leadership roles, or even speak to employees to confirm their internal values align with their external messages. 

3. Join an organization in your industry that is supporting women.

Almost every industry (even the male-dominated ones) will have some sort of professional organization dedicated to supporting the underrepresented people in the field. There’s the Society for Women Engineers, Women in Manufacturing, Women Who Code, and many more. These organizations can provide support, guidance, and resources to help you excel in your industry. And provide a sense of community, which is especially important if you’re the only or one of the few women at your company.

4. Find a balance between fitting in and pushing back.

There’s a lot of advice out there that might tell you this is just how it is and you and just try to fit in as one of the guys. However, without balance, this only puts you in a stressful position and continues to promote negative environments as acceptable. This “performative niceness” can become an emotional burden that women have to carry when they always try to play nice and fit in. Not to mention, it doesn’t help the industry change can hurt how you are viewed as a leader. Find a balance between being a team player and speaking up and pushing back when you can and it feels safe.

5. Seek out women mentors in your field.

One of the most valuable things you can do regardless of the industry you enter is to find supportive women to look to. Research shows that women at work are more likely to be allies, mentors, and advocates against discrimination. If you can find those women to support you, they can make a world of difference in your experience. 

At Women’s Motor Fest, we support women in male-dominated industries. We hope you will read more about our upcoming events in Detroit and Columbus. Our Detroit Auto Show for women takes place on June 18, 2022 and our Columbus Car Show happens in September 10, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio.

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