Business of Men

Working in a male-dominated industry? Here’s how to succeed

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Unsurprisingly, women are largely underrepresented in STEM industries. According to Professionals Australia’s Women in STEM report, only 28% of the STEM-qualified Australian workforce is female. Looking specifically at engineering, women represent only 12% of the field, according to Engineering Australia. Although we’ve made leaps and bounds as a society since the conservative years of the 60’s where men were the breadwinners and women were expected to housekeep and fulfill their biological duties, there’s still ground to be covered in reaching equality and true workplace diversity; this is especially true in Australia.

Currently, our European counterparts are leading the way. In Europe, 35% of engineers are women; in Iran, over 50% of all engineering graduates are women, and so are 70% of overall STEM graduates. Therefore, it seems we’re a little slow here on the uptake. A lot of this comes down to the roles within STEM industries being typically male-orientated. Female applicants are often deterred from male-dominated professionals for a number of reasons; however, it’s these professions that need women the most. The benefits of a more diverse and balanced workforce are not only felt by the workers, but society as a whole. So, how do we make the transition?

Fortunately, there are some women that have already successfully made this shift and have paved the way for the rest of us. Katie Tomicek is an E-Learning Coordinator for Australian Diversified Engineering, a provider of haul road solutions for the mining and construction industry. Working in the engineering sector, Katie is familiar with the challenges and rewards that come with starting a new position in a male-centric workplace, and to help others considering taking the leap, she shares some advice. If you’re considering jumping ship towards a male-dominated industry, take this advice onboard.

1. Take the leap of faith

Mining is typically a male-dominated sector. In 2018, men made up to 84% of the mining workforce. That being said, the mining industry is striving for gender diversity and is actively encouraging women to join. BHP, for example, has made plans to have women represent 50% of their company by 2025. Rio Tinto has previously received awards for gender diversity and anti-domestic violence initiatives. Of course, more still needs to be done overall.

Some of the main hesitations women feel towards joining male-centric industries comes from anxiety toward the work setting and life priorities which they may feel conflict with their role. Having successfully entered the engineering sector and raised a family, I can tell you that you can have both. You can be a businesswoman, and a wife, and a mother.

Women may get anxious when entering a role or career path that’s not necessarily the norm for females, such as the mining sector or a trade, but this view that they’re entering a ‘man’s world’ is archaic. If you visit any department on a mine site today, you will always see hard-working women in action, and not just at the reception desk. Women are right at the dig face driving big trucks, or repairing heavy machinery in the workshop, or even overseeing the entire operations of the mine. For those considering entering a male-centric sector, my advice is to just apply. Be confident in your skills and abilities and go for it.

2. Be comfortable in your own skin

Working in a male-dominated industry can be intimidating, but as women, we need to show confidence and self-assurance in male-centric roles. Women’s employment has many long-reaching benefits for women and Australia as a whole. Boosting women’s workforce participation has the potential to add up to $25 billion to the Australian economy. This untapped potential has seen word leaders introduce initiatives to increase female participation. That’s why in 2017, G20 leaders committed to reduce the gender participation gap by 25 per cent by 2025.

Whether you’re worried about your job performance or speaking up at an internal meeting with your male colleagues, it’s important to remember that you’ve earned your position through your knowledge, experience, and skills. You don’t have to feel intimidated, you’re an equal player in the game.

Further, it’s important for women to remember that being assertive is not being confrontational. Never shy away from an unpleasant conversation. Be collected with your thoughts and your words, talk with confidence and be open to feedback – it will go a long way with your fellow colleagues.

3. Make the most of every opportunity

According to a Hewlett-Packard internal report, men apply for job promotions when they meet 60% of the qualifications. Women on the other hand, only apply if they meet 100% of them. Undoubtedly, there is a confidence gap in genders. While women feel more confident as they gain years of experience, they end up missing opportunities during those early years because of a fear of trying.

My advice is to make the most of every opportunity that presents itself. Whether you’re going for a big promotion or get the opportunity to showcase your “big idea”, be confident in your skills and take a gamble.

4. Find a common denominator

On occasion, working in a male-dominated industry can feel like you’re working against the longstanding ‘boys club’. Women may feel that their efforts to break into a male-centric industry are met with resistance; however, statistics show that many men support gender diversity initiatives. According to Bain & Company’s study, 45% of men felt high to middle-level engagement towards gender diversity. Further, the ‘boys club’ mentality seems to be a fading trend as younger generations of men report higher levels of engagement than their older counterparts.  So, how do you break down barriers when entering a male dominated field?

Finding a common denominator can make for a great working relationship, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn more about your colleagues. You may find common interests or learn valuable industry insights.

5. Seek out a mentor

Are you hesitant to ask questions or request a promotion? It can be daunting, particularly if you’re going against a room full of male colleagues.

Meeting regularly with a mentor is a great way to flesh out ideas or thoughts, speak to someone in confidence about work-related queries, and seek professional advice and guidance. Having a male mentor gives you the opportunity to speak with someone potentially like-minded to your colleagues, whereas speaking with a female mentor in a similar position is perfect if you’d like guidance from someone who has been in your shoes before.

On the other hand, you may consider becoming a mentee for others that might be in a similar position to you previously. Set an example for other women in male-dominated fields and inspire the younger generation to make the most of their opportunities. 

6. How to deal with uncomfortable situations

Dealing with uncomfortable situations in the workforce isn’t fun, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. It’s important to recognise that you have the same rights as every other employee, even in a male-dominated industry, as well as the same rights to explore new opportunities and career growth.

There are a number of support systems you can refer to if you’re facing challenges. Apart from seeking support from your personal social circle, refer any issues that arise in the workplace to the company’s human resources department and counselling programs. These can be your greatest asset in the middle of a personal or work crisis. Finally, remember to always speak up, particularly if you’re struggling to figure out how to deal with an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation.

About Katie Tomicek

katiet@thebusinesswomanmedia.com'

Katie Tomicek is a woman of many talents. She’s a family woman, juggling three kids and a husband, and she’s an in-demand businesswoman, frequently flying interstate and overseas for her role at Australian Diversified Engineering as their ‘E-Learning Coordinator’. Australian Diversified Engineering provides innovative haul road solutions for the mining and construction industry across the globe. Their range of products and services are changing the way miners think and operate, and naturally, changes require training. This is where Katie lends her skill, developing E-Learning courses and a centralised self-service support database that standardises the learning experience and makes it available to customers anywhere, anytime. Working in a male-dominated industry may come with its challenges, but Katie’s work in the field is very rewarding and she loves the excitement the ever-evolving mining industry has to offer.

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