Gender equality in the workplace is finally beginning to change for the better, though at a glacial pace. Slightly more than half of U.S. adults (52%) believe that gender equality is essential. Time magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year award was distributed equally amongst “The Silence Breakers,” the women behind and associated with the #MeToo movement. In 2018, more women assumed leadership, board, and Congressional roles throughout the country. While these types of progress are heartening, the reality is that women are still significantly underrepresented, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields. In fields such as long-haul trucking, a shortage exists because drivers are mostly older, white men and diverse demographics have not been encouraged.
This representation issue is especially apparent within many STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, where women are not only the minority in employment but are also more likely to face gender discrimination. There are still people who view women in male-dominated career fields as oddities or as having improperly earned their positions. Women working in STEM fields like utilities and transportation, construction, computing, civil engineering and mining experience higher levels of harassment and discrimination, especially if they are pregnant.
Women who are in or who wish to pursue careers in these traditionally masculine fields many find this information daunting, and rightfully so. However, you can take specific steps to not only successfully navigate these fields and their subsequent challenges, but also experience more satisfaction and purpose in your job.
Cultivate and Embrace Self-Confidence
Many women experience imposter syndrome (IS), an anxiety-fueled inability to recognize and respect their success. Women with this condition may feel they are masquerading as frauds in their jobs. You may internalize ideas such as not being good enough or not deserving of the positions you’ve earned.
In this situation, acknowledging your accomplishments as real and rightly earned is key to changing your work dynamic. Avoid comparing yourself to others; there is only one you, and that is all you should measure yourself against. Believe in yourself and your abilities, give yourself daily pep talks in the mirror, listen to podcasts about developing self-esteem and confidence, and use journaling to express your feelings, whether they are doubts, fears, or kudos. Committing your thoughts to paper boosts your ability to concentrate and releases emotional stress.
Find Your Voice … and Use it
Assertiveness is a quality that can suffer in women, especially in a male-dominated atmosphere. Too often, whether in job interviews or board rooms, women who clearly state what they want are considered blunt or unfeminine. Find your voice and share your thoughts and desires within the workplace. Advocate for yourself by knowing what you want and how to ask for it; negotiation is an essential skill that will serve you well in your career. Pick your moment, and don’t be afraid to speak up and share your input. Own your mistakes, which is a sign of character; however, don’t apologize before or after you make your point.
Assertiveness also includes authenticity and understanding that someone else will take the opportunity to speak if you don’t. Begin every discussion with a colleague or boss with the endpoint in mind, give friendly advice, and be open to feedback. Should you feel you are being talked over, politely interrupt the speaker and ask to complete your point. Alternatively, you can turn the interaction into a discussion rather than a lecture, including open-ended questions.
Create a Solid Peer Support System
Reach out to other women in your company or industry and form relationships. Find sustainable and positive support systems in professional development associations, such as the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) and STEM for Her. These organizations can help you to connect with women in similar careers and work environments. You can gain inspiration from other women in STEM fields like computing, cybersecurity, software development, and environmental sciences and make valuable connections that may help advance your career.
Team Up With a Mentor or Role Model
Role models or mentors are critical to encouraging and sustaining workplace equality and diversity. Because there are fewer female employees in STEM fields, it is even more important for you to see and learn from a successful woman in upper management who is proof that success and career progression can be achieved alongside motherhood and raising a family. Team up with other women in your organization or career field. They can share with you their stories and experiences in STEM fields and how they have coped with challenges and achieved success. Having a role model reminds you that you can indeed have it all should you want it.
Pay it Forward
As you become more adept and comfortable in your position, reach out to other female colleagues and offer your help. Low numbers in fields like the sciences and computing mean there is a better chance to form meaningful bonds with other women in your company. Offer support and guidance, and become a mentor or role model yourself, to assist other women to create a successful and fulfilling career. Give back to the women who have helped you in the past by paving the way for future female leaders. Lend your hand, pull up other women with you, and real change will begin in these typically male-dominated careers.
Believe in Yourself
Progress in terms of gender equality in the workplace doesn’t necessarily mean equality. Women have made impressive and significant impacts in fields that have catered to male employees, but there is still more to do to improve our positions in STEM fields both presently and in the future. Believe in yourself, speak up for yourself, reach out to peers and mentors for support, and then pay it forward by helping the women entering your career field after you. In these ways, women can successfully manage and enjoy careers in traditionally male-dominated fields.