Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Women: No Industry is Off-Limits

Even in male-dominated industries, women can excel. 3 female CEOs tell you how.


Women are starting businesses at a rate three times that of men, but there are still inroads to be made in typically male-dominated fields such as , and gaming, to name a few.

Mireille Gingras is founder, CEO and president of HUYA Bioscience International, a company that focuses on drug development. She offers the following five tips for women trying to get established in a field where few other women hold executive titles:

  1. Commit to building and growing your career: "I've always been very motivated and focused on dedicating myself to those things about which I'm passionate. This dedication allowed me to put an enormous amount of time and energy into something I believe in," Gingras says. Accordingly, she developed an innovative business model in the biotechnology space, bridging the gap between China and the U.S.
  2. Know your industry, and look for opportunities that would play to women's strengths: "The pharmaceutical business is becoming more global, and women are often better attuned to cultural differences." In addition, she says, the fragmentation of the industry has shifted the key success factor from project selection--or choice of technology--to project execution, which requires motivating and managing large teams of talented people.
    "Women are typically comfortable working in the team setting," Gingras says, "making them well-positioned to lead teams in senior management roles."
  3. Move away from your comfort zone when networking: "Networking at industry meetings is one way to stay connected, as is joining specific organizations in one's field," Gingras says. In , where she lives, she singled out Athena, a networking group for women executives in the technology, life science and health-care sector. Network, but be careful not to limit yourself to same-gender networking.
  4. Maintain a balance between drive and patience: Entrepreneurs are action-oriented and focused on making things happen. "The drive and initiative to get things done vs. the need to be thoughtful and patient when challenges arise can be a struggle, so it's crucial to evaluate times when one may be more beneficial than the other," Gingras says.
  5. Speak directly and with confidence: It may sound obvious, but women are less likely than men to assume a loud, confident tone and are more likely to use equivocation--ending a sentence with a question mark, as though doubting their own words.

Susan Choe is founder and CEO of Outspark, an online game publishing company. She's been in the internet industry for 12 years and the online gaming field for four. "It's still a male-dominated industry at both the corporate and user level, though the number of women playing games is growing rapidly.

Online Gaming
"I haven't seen any changes yet at higher levels, but as more women play games, I'm sure we'll see them get into online game publishing, service operations and game development," Choe says.

For Choe, networking with other women executives in her field is difficult because so few exist. "It would be nice to have someone to talk to with a female perspective. I think female perspectives are valuable because guys more often than not think about things from the perspective of core gamers--the 18- to 34-year-old males that have so long represented the largest segment of our industry. But the market is changing rapidly and becoming broader."

Choe has experienced "numerous times," she says. A former boss once told her that women "don't take their careers too seriously."

Her strategy for success then was to ignore the comments and work hard.

"If anything, comments like that drive me to work harder. I take them as fuel for the fire, and they inspire me to help my team succeed."

Choe says if she could give one piece of advice to a woman entering a male-dominated field, it would be to "seek out good examples or mentors to learn from."

"Try to be surrounded with good friends and colleagues with whom you can exchange ideas and help over the years," she says.

She recommends being clear about goals and timelines, and she advises women not to be afraid to make mistakes. "Just try," she says. Ultimately, she points out, "No one but you is going to know better what you're good at or what really drives you."

Publishing and
Stacey Kannenberg is founder and CEO of Cedar Valley Publishing and principal of Mom Central Consulting, a marketing company targeting moms. She says she was shocked when she became a publisher and began encountering resistance from "the male-dominated world of printing."

"I never would have believed that the good ol' boys network was still so alive and well in [the new century]," Kannenberg says.

After 14 years of working in the industry, she has learned to choose her battles. She also has parted ways with those who didn't give her the respect she deserved.

One fight she faced was having printer after printer tell her, "You don't want to do that" every time she requested that a children's book be made out of durable material to outlast the ravages of little hands. Her response was to be persistent and insist that her requests be met.

Networking has been key to her success. Her network has grown to more than 500 authors, 100 publishers, 1,500 mom-owned businesses and 600 bloggers, a vast majority of whom are women.

"Women are natural problem solvers who love to share and help. I would not be where I am today without each and every one of them," she says.

The most important lesson Kannenberg learned is to stick up for herself and not be bullied. She cites the following as an example of how to deal with sexist comments: Kannenberg received a shipment where the majority of books had at least one loose page. She called the printer and asked for the CEO, thinking he could help fix the problem.

"He said, 'Listen here, little girl, I stand behind the quality of that shipment and I am 100 percent confident that we are within the standards for printing accuracy, and we will not be reprinting that press run."

Her reply: "Have you seen the books?"

His reply: "I don't need to because I stand behind my workers and the quality of their work."

That's when Kannenberg took it up a notch: "I suggest you go out on the production line, open one of my books and, if the telephone page of every book does not fall out, then you don't need to call me back to apologize. But you will be reprinting those books, or you will be hearing from my attorney."

She never got an apology, but the books were reprinted.

Kannenberg says she learned to please herself and her customers rather than try to please everyone. She also advises: Don't be so quick to blame yourself if you're struggling to overcome obstacles in your work life.

"I thought it was me. It wasn't."

However, it wasn't until she began talking to her network of publishers who deal with printers that she realized that information is power. "They gave me the information I needed to go back to my various printers and say, 'Hey, you cut corners. I talked to the following printers, and here is what they think you did.' I referenced printers that they know and trust, and that gave me credibility."

Kannenberg's final recommendation is to arm yourself with valuable information and become a trusted expert in your field. "Be willing to pick your battles, but never let the quality of your work suffer. Be willing to exceed customer expectations and, in the printing industry, your reputation will grow. In fact, call me, as I would love to work with a woman printer."

Have you or has someone you know succeeded in what's typically considered a male-dominated industry? Summarize your story for us. Respond to

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks