I am a… Woman in a Male-Dominated Profession

Photo: a boardroom of twelve middle aged, white men in suits

I am a woman working in a male-dominated profession. The profession doesn’t start off as male-dominated – there are as many female graduates as male. It’s when you look at the top of the profession, its leaders, that you notice a significant lack of female representation. I don’t have time here (or the word count!) to discuss why that is this case and it is a complex issue, so I am going to talk about two particular concerns which I have encountered as a female leader at the top of my profession. These may seem minor to you, but when you have to contend with them over a long period of time, they can be challenging and often upsetting.

As I climbed the career ladder and started to manage people, I was often called bossy and (worse) a female dog. Initially I didn’t attribute this to my gender, but thought I needed to improve my management-style and that I was at fault. I criticised myself. Over the years though, I started to analyse these instances and realised that I hadn’t done anything wrong- I was leading my team as I should and also in the same way as my male colleagues, who received no such criticism. It is worth noting here- I was criticised more by women than by men! I thought that this criticism had stopped – I reached the top of my career. Recently, I went to a networking event with a junior female colleague. After networking separately for a while, she came to tell me that one of our competitors (a man) had just said to her that I was “over-powering” and “controlling”. She was shocked and had told him that was rubbish and that she enjoyed working with me. I told her we should take it as a compliment- he had been trying to poach her! Deep down though, I was upset both for my young colleague and for myself.

On the subject of networking: it’s a challenge for women. Many of the networking events which attract our clients are male-dominated sporting events: golf, rugby etc. When organising your own networking events, try thinking of events which would be interesting to both sexes: wine tasting, a family fun sports day or horse racing perhaps. Male-dominated sporting events are a necessary evil- where personal alliances develop into working relationships. Your male competitors will be there!

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