It baffles me that in 2015 gender is still a “hot button” topic in the workplace. The statistics speak for themselves: There are only 23 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and, on average, we earn 78 cents for every dollar our male counterparts make.
Fortunately, we have some serious female contenders for the next U.S. president, and the number of women in Congress is at an all-time high. Yet women are still at a disadvantage. Historically, entrepreneurship has been male dominated but this, too, is changing. Still, many female business owners face significant obstacles because of gender discrimination.
Now is the time to eliminate the gender gap. Having found myself in typically male-dominated industries throughout my career in technology and business, here is my advice for women navigating male dominated waters:
1. Stop apologizing.
Remove “I'm sorry”, “excuse me”, and “if it’s alright” from your vocabulary. You don’t need to apologize for someone bumping into you, being passionate, asking a question, raising children or saying no. You’re not on a quest to be likeable, polite or non-offensive. Don’t downplay your power; celebrate your contributions and polarizing opinions.
2. Bring your appetite.
Be hungry for experiences and adventure. Women’s intuition is real; follow it and you will become a master of your life. I followed my gut, and it took me to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. I came back more or less unscathed and so much richer for the experiences.
3. Believe in yourself.
Fortify your confidence. When strength comes from within, the simple belief in yourself is enough to propel you toward achieving your dreams. As my uber-supportive parents taught me, don’t let anything stand in your way of what you desire. And during the tough days, look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself the best damn pep talk you can muster. There isn’t anything a determined woman can’t do.
4. Embrace the 'f-word.'
When did feminism become a bad word? If you advocate women’s rights, you’re a feminist. Stand up for what you believe in: for your sisters and daughters.
4. Don’t tailor yourself for others.
When I spent five years in the Middle East consulting for an established IT company as one of the only senior women, I was asked to wear a hijab. I politely declined; it wasn’t my normal dress. They accepted this and, ultimately, respected me more for adhering to my values. Everyone will have a different request of you, so it’s important to know yourself and be steadfast in your convictions.
5. Help other women.
Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, once said, "There's a special place in hell reserved for women who don't help other women." I was lucky to have a role model like this at my first professional job. A male counterpart and I were hired to analyze and advise the company when my female boss found out I was receiving less pay for identical work. She fought her superiors on my behalf, resulting in an equal wage. Her act was a win for us both, and a small step for ambitious woman everywhere. Lend your hand and pull others up with you.