Published on May 19th, 2015 | by Nancy F. Clark0
When Working With Men, Barging In Is Really Good Advice
By Cheryl Rosner—
It can be extremely difficult for women to thrive in male-dominated industries. I have experienced these challenges first-hand throughout my career, and also learned what it takes to succeed. I’ve seen that while progress has been made, we have a long way to go before women can thrive in these industries without a fight. Achieving that goal requires lots of small steps to be made every day by women, as well as men.
Men outnumber women 7 to 3 in the tech industry, despite holding 41 percent of science and engineering degrees. Only 13 percent of venture-backed companies have at least one female co-founder and even fewer have a female CEO. I endured a lot of bias and unfair treatment early in my career. I faced a particularly challenging situation when I was in my first leadership position and I didn’t feel confident enough to speak out. One person out of a group who witnessed the unjust behavior stepped forward on my behalf. I’ve never forgotten this person or the courage it took for him to stand up for me. His courage gave me the courage I needed to leave the company.
This experience taught me a couple of important lessons that still stick with me. First, men and women alike have to advocate against bias and unjust behavior whenever they see it, regardless of the type of bias or at whom it is directed. This may seem obvious, but it is not. Women overwhelmingly drop out of STEM education and careers in the tech industry due to “culture” (you can find three separate studies documenting this pattern here, here, and here). One of the challenges with bias today is that it tends to be subtle. Rather than blatant sexism, many women experience a succession of “micro-indignities” that make it difficult to know when to speak out. No-one wants to put themselves on the line for something that is trivial, but letting small manifestations of bias run wild is what leads to a wider, more deep-seated culture of discrimination.
Yes, every individual should be responsible for standing up for themselves, but the reality is that this does not always happen. This is why it’s so important for everyone to share a collective responsibility for fighting bias — especially for people in positions of leadership. Now that I have a regular seat at the table, I always remember that the seat comes with a responsibility to ensure everyone is treated fairly and to stand up for those who won’t stand up for themselves—just as someone once did for me.
During more challenging moments, when I felt like the world was against me, clarity of purpose and perseverance were what got me through. Many women in male-dominated industries feel that their work is undervalued and that they have to work harder than men to achieve the same things. And as mentioned above, culture causes women to drop out of male-dominated industries in droves. Overcoming such steep barriers requires an absolute love for your work, a belief in what you’re doing, and the tenacity to keep with it when things get tough.
To achieve a fulfilling life, it’s important to find work that you value. I work in the travel tech industry because I’m passionate about travel, and I have refused to let anyone undermine my commitment. None of this is to say that I don’t believe in compromise, but there is a difference between making compromises that benefit your entire team and compromising yourself. Being stoic and fighting hard when you cannot compromise are key to ultimately succeeding. However, this is certainly not the path of least resistance. At every step of the way, I’ve had to fight for my seat at the table, fight to stay there, and fight to be heard. This often made me feel like I was “barging in,” rather than “leaning in,” but sometimes it takes barging for women to get the opportunities they deserve—although I do appreciate the more elegant “lean in” approach.
In addition to purpose, commitment, and tenacity, work-life integration is also important for women to thrive. I say integration, because I gave up on the idea of work-life balance a long time ago. Both work and life are always greater than 100%. Instead of striving for the impossible goal of balance, I acknowledge that “work” and “home” are equally important parts of the one life I have. By integrating the two, everyone—whether it is my husband, my team, or my dog—gets to engage with a more complete, focused “me.”
Every woman’s experience in a male-dominated industry is different. That said, I’ve picked up a number of tips along the way that I believe can help any woman who wants to run a successful business.
- Declare your purpose. This will keep you motivated and strong when the going gets tough.
- Tell at least 10 people in your sector your idea and get feedback. Look for one who wants to mentor or help you—because mentors are an invaluable resource.
- Create a “give and get” support system of people to engage with regularly.
- Remember this quote from David J. Schwartz from The Magic of Thinking Big: “Action cures fear.”
- Treat the haters and disbelievers with kindness and love. They can’t help themselves— they don’t know better, but you do. Be better than them.
For women in male-dominated fields, the challenges can feel overwhelming. Just remember that every day and every step you take, no matter how small it may seem, can help bring you closer to your goals.
Cheryl Rosner is Co-Founder and CEO of Stayful.com, a company of avid travelers who want to share their passion for independent, boutique hotels with you. You can follow her on Twitter @CherylRosner. She’s also on the Brain Trust of Positivity Daily.