Making a Career in a Male-dominated Industry
Over the years, mistaken gender stereotypes have implied that there's only a certain level of success that women are able to achieve
Now more than ever, women have a tough ladder to climb in order to reach the top rung of their career; they’re often faced with a variety of hurdles, and pushing for their voices to be heard is just one of them.
In fact, research shows that men dominate in every sector of society, with just 6 per cent of FTSE 100 chief executives being women. This highlights what an achievement it is when women do make it to an executive team or board. But in 2019, shouldn’t this be the norm?
Let’s take a look at specific industries that are typically male-dominated. The supply chain sector where women account for just 37 per cent of the industry and the higher the leadership role is, the further those percentages drop. When looking at high-profile jobs such as politicians, women only hold 32 per cent of seats in the House of Commons and just 25.7 per cent in the House of Lords.
Is being seen, heard and making an impact in a male-dominated industry impossible?
Using Your Voice Successfully
We often hear the phrase “confidence is key” but, as many of us know, it’s far easier said than done.
When building up your confidence, the initial step is to identify the value you offer; what experiences have you had that will help you add value where others are unable to? What expertize have you learned throughout your career that gives you an advantage over your peers? Be proactive with this; write down your specific attributes, skills and experiences—once you have them in front of you, you’ll start to believe it.
To identify your own unique, individual voice, start sharing your experiences with others. No one else has the same career experience as you—after all, you’re the only person that has lived your life, right? By sharing the experiences you’ve had and the lessons these situations have taught you, you can actively demonstrate the reasons your opinion adds value.
When entering a male-dominated workplace, women shouldn’t feel the need to adapt their personality and characteristics or behave like a man to get recognition. Over the years, mistaken gender stereotypes have implied that there’s only a certain level of success that women are able to achieve. Times are changing; advocates for equality are starting to fight more for gender balance in the workplace and toleration for sexism is reducing significantly.
One stand-out advocate of this is Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, who speaks about ensuring her voice is heard and leaning in to her roles in order to get to the top of her career.
However, what many struggle with is taking the initial step and believing in ourselves. In these situations, seeking a mentor can be valuable; by working closely with someone who has previously overcome the same confidence battles that you’re experiencing, you’ll be able to build confidence while seeing the benefit that making your voice heard can have. Work with your mentor to draw on your previous experiences to create your own unique voice. This will demonstrate to others that, not only do you have something interesting to say, but you also have the experience to back it up.
Be proud of what you have to say; recognize the value of your opinion and truly believe that what you have to say is worth listening to.
Taking a Seat at the Top
Taking a seat on the board means to work among, and be part of a board of directors—directors combine their knowledge and experience to help run and supervise an organization successfully.
To sit on a board, there’s no doubt that you have to be well established with leading people, knowing your industry and being one step ahead. While these skills are certainly achievable by both men and women, research shows that the number of females on boards is significantly lower than males; of 399 corporate boards, just 22 per cent were women.
For many female board members, they’ll find themselves frequently reminding themselves of their qualifications and deservedness of their role. Have faith in your skills and take specific steps in your career to ensure you have the tools needed to lead effectively.
Many professionals will have experienced the feeling of imposter syndrome, the psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud”. The key to overcoming it is to physically understand why you are in the role you are.
Seek jobs that will provide you with a breadth of experiences whether it be in leadership, project management, global scope or new technical skills. Consider taking sideways steps and lateral moves to positions in different functions where you’re able to deepen and broaden your expertize and experiences. By building a strong foundation, you’re able to rise quickly to senior levels.
Networking will also unlock many avenues, too. Never underestimate the value of continual learning and networking—lots of doors will open purely because of who you meet on your journey to seniority. Pitching to be a part of an executive team helps enhance feelings of courage and authority while learning how to overcome imposter syndrome.
Fostering Nerves to Help Boost Confidence
Nerves can be crippling for many, no matter their age, gender or level of seniority. The key is to embrace the fact that nerves are natural—you can learn techniques to help tackle feelings of anxiety so as to stop them from holding you back.
For example, one way to use your nerves in a positive way is to zoom out—really ask yourself if you will still be thinking about the subject that is making you feel nervous in the coming weeks or months. The chances are you’re putting unnecessary amounts of pressure on yourself.
Remind yourself to have a voice, a seat at the table and be confident to speak up and provide your perspective in meetings—both executive and board.
Looking toward the future of the supply chain sector, we should expect and encourage our industries to seek a rise in the number of females sitting in senior positions. Research has found that gender-diverse companies perform 15 times better than non-gender diverse companies. While steps are starting to be taken to create a gender balance across more industries, in order to make a difference we need to continue to push our businesses, colleagues and industries to instigate permanent change.
Companies and society must adopt new ways of thinking to support women in reaching senior management levels and make a difference in our future workplace.
Debbie is President of Global Supply Chain at Electrocomponents plc and its trading brands RS Components, Allied Electronics and IESA. She joined Electrocomponents plc, a global multi-channel provider of industrial and electronic products and solutions, as the President of Global Supply Chain in 2017. Debbie is responsible for leading the further development of the Group’s supply chain capability to provide an innovative and sustainable market-leading service for customers and suppliers.
RS Components and Allied Electronics & Automation are the leading brands of Electrocomponents. The Group offers more than 500,000 industrial and electronic products, sourced from over 2,500 leading suppliers, and provides a wide range of value-added solutions to over one million customers. With operations in 32 countries, Electrocomponents trades through multiple channels and ships over 50,000 parcels a day.