Never let them see you coming.
I played baseball on a boys team because I interpreted being a girl as second place. I learned to swing a hammer and turn a wrench as well as any man I know. Now, as the owner of a business that provides services to municipal utilities, it appears that I still prefer being one of the guys. I am familiar with navigating male-dominated industries and have taken a seat at the table, even when the “boys’ club” remains a real phenomenon. It has not always been easy, but nothing worth having is easy to attain. Acknowledging your “woman-ness” is the difficult element of building a business amongst rooms full of men and is why writing this column is uncomfortable. Too many women accept their assumed roles and let fear of failure crush their dreams. Here are a few lessons learned from building my woman-owned business in a male-dominated world.
Surround yourself with people that have your back and believe in the importance of a gender diverse workforce. Build trusted professional relationships with men who believe in your business. Some men who were once mentors to me are now my clients and vice versa; these relationships are the most valuable asset your business has.
Lead with Confidence
Be bold and rather than aim to be likable, strive to be someone who is respected. Truly believe that you belong in the same room as powerful male leaders and don’t be afraid to pull up a seat at their table. I will never forget these words my dear friend Amanda Price wrote for me on a Post-it note and slipped into my luggage: “Progress creates results. We make our own luck. You are a rockstar.”
Let the Work Speak for Itself
Words are powerful. When presenting new ideas, be sure to speak with intention and use minimal permission words. Stop apologizing for no other reason than to make people in the room feel comfortable and superior. There will be times when your ground-breaking idea is rejected, regardless of referenced success stories. You may have to explain your concept in several different ways for people to take you seriously and recognize your field experience. Do not allow yourself to be belittled, but at the same time, welcome questioning. Criticism gives you more opportunity to show your expertise.
Having the right balance of perspectives in the workplace is key to making well-rounded decisions and generating robust solutions. By overcoming the unique challenges in a male-dominated industry, women can become role models to other women aspiring to be business leaders. Master your subject matter, listen well, stay curious and never let them see you coming.