9 Tips for Succeeding as a Woman in a Male-Dominated World
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Thirty years ago, when I was beginning my career, women were still something of an anomaly in corporate America, eyed suspiciously and often expected to quit imminently for domestic alternatives. Today, women are almost 47 percent of the workforce. But in many ways, in many industries, there’s a strong institutional bias toward the male ways of doing things.
I’ve worked at Fortune 500 companies and founded two companies of my own. Developing the following traits and habits were tremendously helpful in making my way as a woman in corporate America, and they can help you, too.
1. Cultivate confidence.
Be assertive. Being heard in male-dominated industries sometimes means learning to not allow others to speak over you or interrupt you. That doesn’t mean you need to adopt rude behaviors and interrupt others, but it does sometimes mean insisting on having your say.
2. Stay positive.
Nothing generates goodwill or builds morale among other employees more powerfully than a good attitude. Let your thoughts linger on your past victories, not defeats, and focus on the milestones you’re set to achieve in the future.
3. Be an aggressive lifelong learner.
Keep on top of the news in your specialty area and in your broader market daily. Take advantage of every relevant seminar and continuing education class you can. Stay on your toes. Being informed will help build your confidence, and you’ll be a valuable resource to your teammates.
4. Care about being respected more than being liked.
If a consistent, impulsive “sorry” is part of your go-to set of immediate responses to a disagreement, banish it from your vocabulary. Don’t be a pleaser. Most Ellevate Network members believe that saying “sorry” too much can undermine their communication, and a significant minority think it’s best not to use the word at all. In the corporate world, those who are constantly trying to appease others are too often more likely to be trampled than appreciated.
5. Learn how to handle conflict.
This doesn’t mean being combative. Nor does it mean constantly seeking to avoid conflict. When a conflict pops up, try to be forward-looking and positive: “So how do we move past this?” Don’t attack other people personally, ever, and don’t let them attack you. Stay focused on the issue at hand. Be very careful not to email when you’re angry or read emotion or tone into emails where it’s not there. Don’t hold a grudge.
6. Take on a leadership role.
Eventually, if you’re good at your job, you’ll likely be offered the chance to take leadership on a project. Don’t turn that down. But don’t wait for it, either. Often there are unassigned projects or problems hovering in the office just waiting for someone to take charge of them. Push yourself to be the go-to person on an issue you know a lot about and can take charge of.
7. Get active in women’s associations.
There are fantastic opportunities for camaraderie, mentorship and business networking in organizations, as well as in industry-specific ones, too, such as the Association for Women in Science. Take advantage of them.
8. Support other women.
Be ethical. This one seems so obvious -- we’ve all been taught some variation of this as children, whether it’s generating good karma or honoring the Golden Rule -- but too often it’s not followed. It’s arresting and discouraging that females often tend to be harder on female leaders than male leaders, and several studies have indicated most actually prefer a male boss. Remember: Agreeableness is not a weakness and kindness is not a vice. Women who treat others fairly and ethically tend to both be happier people and more productive employees.
9. Consider striking out on your own.
There came a time in my career when I decided that fully immersing myself in the field I had the greatest passion for, biopesticides, would be easiest to do as head of my own company. You’ll find it takes a certain confidence and communication for talking to investors, and that it may help to have an MBA, but there truly has never been a better time to be a woman entrepreneur, especially in agtech. Although women only run 5 percent of the largest companies today, they run 30 percent of all businesses.
The last few generations have helped bring more women into the workforce and into corporate leadership roles. We’ve come a long way. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t much further to go -- witness, for instance, the recent debacle at Uber.
Working to bring other women into leadership is an important way to advance the change we need. But it’s also true that the most critical change starts with shaping ourselves, the area where we have the most control. Cultivating these characteristics should help.
(By Pamela Marrone. Pamela is the CEO and Founder of Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. She's a serial entrepreneur dedicated to making agriculture more sustainable through the discovery and commercialization of natural/biological products for pest management and plant health.)