“Dear LiL: Being a woman in a male-dominated industry can be challenging. Have you ever faced such a situation, and if so, what strategies did you use to advocate for yourself and overcome the obstacles?” Signed ~ Defying Dominance
We are excited to welcome Guest Blogger and Harper Grey lawyer, Renée Gagnon, as she dishes some sage advice in her response to the latest question submitted to the Dear LiL Blog.
Dear Defying Dominance:
As a lawyer, I am loathe to speak in absolutes, but I dare say, every woman has faced the obstacle of a male dominated environment. Thus, the part of this question which asks, “[h]ave you ever faced such a situation…” takes me by surprise. Of course, I have! Haven’t we all? I can see that perhaps this part of the question speaks to the biggest setback in workplaces overrepresented by men: women feel alone… You are not alone!
This segways nicely to my first suggested strategy: Do not do it alone. Find yourself some women in your industry who you respect and trust and get connected with them! They know best what you are going through. They will commiserate with you, and they will help you navigate the obstacles unique to being a woman in a male-dominated setting. Indeed, as I have before, I turned to “my women” for their two cents to answer this question. They responded promptly and thoroughly, as I would for them. Here is what they said:
Surround yourself by strong women who lift you up.
Align yourself with mentors (male and female) who get that there are additional challenges for women in male-dominated workplaces.
My addition: I think there are empathetic men out there who see women’s challenges in the workplace/world. Find them and befriend them. They know what we are up against and have an insider’s perspective. They can help you navigate the workplace, and act as your champion.
Know that you belong where you are and have skills, knowledge, and talent to offer and apply.
My addition: This point reminds me of a mantra I use to repeat to myself while walking to work at the beginning of my career: “I am a competent, confident, contributing member of X firm.” Thanks for the reminder! Throughout our careers, we will have various times when we feel less confident in and deserving of our positions. Having a mantra like mine to turn to when the times are tough to remind yourself of your worth may work for you. I encourage you to steal my mantra or create one tailored to cut through your own personal brand of self-doubt. Tired of changing your computer password all the bloody time?! Make it the positive mantra you need in your life at the time. Caution: this can be embarrassing if IT ever needs your password.
Act like your male colleagues when it comes to speaking up and contributing what you think.
My friend would watch her colleague giving his opinion at meetings when she knew he wasn’t sure what he was saying was right, and followed his lead. She thinks this was to her benefit because there is a misconception that if you aren’t speaking, you are not engaged. She cautions against piping up just for the sake of it, but it is likely that – as a woman – you still need to actively push yourself to express your opinion, especially in a male dominated setting.
*Sidenote: special thanks to “my women”: Heidi Besuijen, Tessa Gregson, Katie Kenny and Leanne Monsma.
You may be feeling frustrated … nothing I have offered, above, is a solution. These are coping strategies. But, I think these lead to the solution by enabling more women to stay in the workplace so that eventually the workplace culture created by male domination can go away!
*Sidenote: Men, do not be threatened. I do not believe this culture is ultimately serving your best interests either. I truly believe that inclusive, diverse workplaces benefit us all.
The ultimate strategy I would like to leave you with, though, is the one I learned from the women who paved the path for us. On a few occasions, I have asked, “how the heck did you do it?” to the women, who came up in their careers in the late 60s and 70s, when not only was the workplace male dominated, but it was openly hostile towards women. These women were told they had two career options if they did not want to be mothers. They could be nurses or teachers. If they were married, it was assumed they would be having children and they would not be hired. If they were unmarried, they were asked if they were on birth control at job interviews. They were hated by aggressive men who did not want to share the workplace with them. They had to work twice as hard and be twice as smart as their male counterparts to keep their positions. Yet, they were hated – not celebrated – for work well done. We still deal with sexual harassment today, can you imagine the level they dealt with when everything I just wrote was commonplace?!
*Sidenote: Thank you, women, who paved the path in the workplace for my generation. It has been much easier for us than it was for you.
**Side-Sidenote: We have come a long way, no doubt, and we owe that to the strong women who can before us, but we have a ways to go yet.
Okay, to the point: what did these women teach me? Ignore it. Ignore the noise of the people who belittle, undermine, and underestimate you. Know your inherent worth and value. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Go for whatever it is that you heart desires. Believe in yourself no matter who does not believe in you.
Certainly, easier said than done. There will be times when this seems impossible. There will be times when the world tries to slam you back down “to your place”. Indeed, the women who gave in and followed this advice were tough. But, I believe you are tough too. You have made it this far. Don’t give up on yourself. Good luck out there!
About the Author
Renee Gagnon is a senior associate at Harper Grey LLP. She is a civil litigator with a focus on professional negligence and regulation. She is passionate about helping women advance in their careers. In her free time, she enjoys hitting the beaches or mountains to take in the views, or road biking around town.