10 tips from women working in male-dominated industries

We’re proud to see so many women taking charge in industries that have previously been considered male-dominated. Hoping to dig a little deeper into this, Rajapack, a packaging company (themselves founded by two women in 1954), spoke to ten women currently working in male-dominated environments. Focussing on inspirational women from the construction, packaging, engineering and manufacturing industries, they wanted to find out what advice these women would have for others looking to get into. Check out these experiences from women working in male-dominated industries.

First of all, be brave

Beth Morgan, Vice President of Content Operations at SCM World

Beth advises women to be brave in the workplace and to step outside their comfort zones. This enables them to achieve the best they can.

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“Don’t be afraid to move around and try new things – take advantage of career rotations into other roles, for example. So, network as much as you can and ask questions to find out what it’s really like and discover where your potential lies. At the end of the day, it’s all about people and making a positive difference. Go for it!”

Ruth Waring, Founder of Women in Logistics

Ruth believes women shouldn’t be afraid to push themselves a little more.

“Women still suffer from “doing a good job is enough” syndrome, whereas actually you still have to push yourself forward – which is tricky as some people don’t like doing it (they don’t feel they should have to), and are often perceived in a negative light if they do it, compared to male colleagues.”

Joanna Stephenson, MD of PHD Marketing & Strategy, and Co-Founder of Women in Packaging

Joanna corroborates the points above; encouraging women to seek all the support they need to do the best job possible.

“I firmly believe that success has nothing to do with gender. It’s all about hard work! However, until we’re in a place where we no longer have to think about what it means to be a ‘male leader’ or a ‘female leader’, rather than simply a ‘leader’ we still need to offer support, advice and guidance along the way. The world is a smaller place thanks to the internet, so no woman should feel like her prospective (or current) employer is her only support network.”

Celebrate diversity and embrace the skills you bring to the table

Cristina Lanz-Azcarte, Co-Founder/Director of Atelier EURA and also London & South East Chair for the National Association of Women in Construction

Cristina fully understands the benefits of diversity, and how parity works to help everyone.

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“As an architect, I know that running projects with a diverse design team, where a variety of people and views are represented by each one of the consultancies, has helped us deliver better projects. We tend to overlook the fact that male-led environments do not only limit women. Men are often held to standards and stereotypes which are unhelpful when it comes to delivering a project for those discourage owning up to mistakes and asking questions. I know through experience that a balanced team helps both men and women open up and be honest about the problems in hand without having to worry about keeping up appearances.”

Emma Porter, Head of Operations at Story Contracting

Emma has been in the construction industry all her life. She knows the frustrations of working in a male-dominated environment but also highlights the advantages it can have.

“It will be frustrating and infuriating at times. This all is tedious but usually not intentional. Call it out but don’t let it drag you down. Work hard, be confident and don’t try to be someone you’re not. However, I often bring a different perspective to the team, which is a huge advantage. And it’s easier to stand out if you’re different from the norm; clients, prospective employers and other stakeholders are more likely to remember you.”

Marci Bonham, General manager of Hilti Fastening Systems Limited, Ireland

Marci has 20 years’ experience working with global brands. She has occasionally felt her gender was an issue but says confidence in your abilities is key.

“There have been times in my twenty-two years in business when I felt my gender was an issue – for those I worked with or for. But I find that, if you are confident, capable and true to yourself, your gender will not define you.”

Kate Lester, Founder and CEO of Diamond Logistics

Kate extols the benefits of women in management roles and gives some good advice about how women should conduct themselves to command respect.

Some women can be very different in terms of their management – with so many positive personality traits. However, don’t flutter your eyelashes – demand respect from working hard and getting great results. Get used to speaking up loudly – and rise above boyish banter. Our ability to be different marks us out for fast track trajectory as long as you can develop a hefty results-based work effort and a thick skin!”

Women working in male-dominated industries shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the norm and work together

Harriet Kirk, Senior Geotechnical Engineer at Atkins

Harriet believes industries need to be challenging unconscious bias.

“Within the industry, we need to be constantly challenging unconscious biases – there is lots of evidence that people hire people who remind them of themselves, so if you don’t fit into the industry norm it’s harder to get a break.”

Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive of WISE (Women into Science & Engineering)

Helen also celebrates the different skills women bring to the workforce – and encourages women to work together and help each other succeed.

Women bring different experiences and different perspectives. There are many women’s networks to provide peer support and encouragement and groups for employers to share good practice and learn from each other. WISE can connect people to support appropriate to their sector/location.”

Naomi Climber is Immediate Past President, Fellow and Trustee of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

Naomi says we need to focus on the advantages of women working in male-dominated industries, but also be aware of the drawbacks of being within a minority in the workforce.

“Sometimes it’s more helpful to focus on the advantages rather than the disadvantages! What I would say is that – in a subtle way – being in a very significant minority in the workplace does make it harder to operate comfortably with your own style. You end up trying to fit in with the style of the majority – I think this is true for anyone in the minority, not just gender. If you can’t please everyone don’t worry – as long as you’re clearly trying to do the right thing for the company and operating with integrity, people will understand.”

Things are steadily improving in these formally male-dominated industries as employers begin to see the benefit of a diverse workforce. However, there is still some way to go. The message from these women is clear. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, seek the support you need, and, most of all, rise to the challenge to be the best you can be.

About the author

London-based, Hannah Waters shares the stories of women working in male-dominated industries and is a freelance writer covering topics related to business and society. She has worked extensively with many leading lights and advocates in the small business world.