4 Tips for Succeeding as a Woman in Male Dominated Career Field

Today’s post comes from a guest blogger, Sara Beth Wilcox.  Sara Beth is Project Manager with a large construction company.

With high aspirations to be an architect, I went to Auburn University and spent a year in the program before my professors told me what I already knew: I was not a good fit.  I switched to Building Science and found immediately that it had all the things that made me want to be an Architect and was a better fit for my interests and skills in organizing and scheduling activities in a sequence to reach a finished product.

As a reflect on my work, there are four key observations and advice from my first ten years working as a female in a sea of males on construction sites:

 

1. Shake it off.  People are going to assume, and usually will ask if you are the secretary when they walk into a construction jobsite trailer.  Once people are informed that you are not the secretary, they usually have additional comments about the fact that you are a female in construction. Sometimes these folks are genuinely interested in what got you interested in construction, sometimes their comments are mean and intended to be so. Work to learn how to discern between the two and when you encounter the latter, let it roll off your back then get in your car and turn on Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off”.  I find it impossible to remain angry after a good “haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate …” sing along.

2. You can be a part of the team and still be you.  You can be a part of the team without having to be “one of the guys”.  About 99% of my coworkers hunt. I do not.  And I do not have to hunt for them to like me.  Support your team by sharing in their excitement when they kill the big buck or call in the turkey but do not try to tag along or fake interest unless you genuinely enjoy it.  Have your own interest and use those to your advantage.  In addition to already mentioning Taylor Swift, I am going to further perpetuate the female stereotype here: I really love to bake. And, I have found that my co-workers and field staff are usually more willing to help me when I bring homemade cookies to a meeting, this is known as the ultimate win-win.

3. Be real.  I was at a conference recently speaking on a panel with other women in construction. A fellow female panelist advised the high school students we were talking to: ”NEVER let them see you cry”, the “them” referring to male counterparts. I was more than a little taken aback by this statement and disagree completely. We all deal with things differently. Unfortunately, when I am stressed I cry.  I wish it wasn’t true but I have tried my hardest and there’s just no getting around that knot in my throat when I experience a major disappointment or setback at work. This does not happen on a regular basis, but it has happened and will happen again. I try to seek privacy but sometimes it is just too late. I am not ashamed by the fact that I deal with stress differently than my male peers, it is who I am.

4. Work hard; comparisons aren’t necessary.  Construction is hard work. It is physically and emotionally (see above) taxing on me. Do I have to work harder to prove myself because I am female? Do I make the same as my male co-workers? I honestly have no idea.  (I am able to focus less on fair wages because I trust the company I work for. I recognize not everyone has this luxury and am not suggesting that it should be overlooked if you think as a female you are making less than your male counterparts.) I work hard because I love what I do, I do not want to let my co-workers down, and because it is the right thing to do for my company. Someone smart once said “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” So true, and it’s also the thief of productivity. The less time you spend comparing yourself as a female to your male coworkers, the more time you have to give your job your all!

 

Be Yourself. Work Hard. And don’t spend much time thinking about being a female in a male dominated industry. When you do come across something that distinguishes you from your male counterparts: recognize it, embrace it, then get back to work!

Are you a female or a male in an industry dominated by the other gender?  What is the best advice you have for navigating in your role?

Mary Ila Ward

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