Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Assert Yourself When Entering a Male Dominated Field

By Samantha Peters, Freelance Writer & HR Expert

For the woman in transition, embarking upon a new career, education, or any other life opportunity can make for a daunting and uncertain period. It is human nature to fear the unfamiliar. On the other hand, however, a major change also presents a welcome opportunity to redefine oneself, search out new interests, and forge ahead free of past limitations.

Entering a male-dominated workforce brings into relief both sides of this equation. During National Women's History Month, we have the opportunity to look back on the challenges woman have faced in the workplace and on the tremendous strides that have been made over the past several decades. But even despite widespread signs of greater office equality, many of us in certain industries – law and finance come immediately to mind – still face hidden biases and restrictions that prevent us from reaching our potential. Although women are well-represented in law schools and in entry-level legal jobs, for example, only a few women make it to the top echelons of the profession. The rest get left behind. On that note, for someone entering a male-dominated field, it is only natural to strongly fear the unfamiliar while welcoming the new possibilities at hand.

One of the best ways to welcome those possibilities and redefine yourself is by asserting your capabilities in a male-dominated office. Specifically, you can negate subtle biases by addressing head-on the attitudes and practices that serve to squeeze women out of upper-level roles. Here are some tips for accomplishing this:

Seek Out Mentors And Mentees
Many workplaces have unofficial hierarchies that match mentors with mentees. The mentors – usually employers of greater office stature – will help their mentees with anything ranging from company acclimation all the way down to helping them find a phone number. Most importantly, the mentor is often instrumental in getting a promotion secured for the mentee. Unfortunately, due to sexualized gender conventions, women are often left out of the mentoring system because no woman wants to stand accused of inappropriate relations or intentions. Don’t let these fears guide your actions in the workplace.

Attend “Masculine” Work Engagements
In a holdover from earlier times, many firms often make their most important business deals in informal and highly masculine settings. These settings include golf courses, bars, lounges, and football games. As a woman, you may not have a desire to attend such events, but it is important that you either work to change the venue or decide to occasionally tag along. Even if a deal is not made at every golf outing, your presence there will help negate some of the unconscious bias that may hold you back come promotion time.

Don’t Shy From Your Goals
There are many differences between men and women, one of them arguably being a different conception of propriety. It has been shown that men are much more willing to boldly and explicitly share a selfish goal with the people around him. If he wants to become a partner at his firm, for example, he will likely make no secret of these intentions. On the other hand, a woman might instead keep such desires to herself. Doing so, however, may make her appear less motivated and less desirous of promotion. You don’t need to loudly proclaim your goals of fame and fortune, but it is important that you go into the job with a willingness to exhibit your hope of moving up.

By keeping these tips in mind when starting a new job, the transitional woman can mold a more assertive identity for herself in a male-dominated workplace. National Women's History Month reminds us that our generation has been given far greater opportunities than even our mother’s received. Still, there are still plenty of biases out there – intended or not – that serve to hold us back. A change in your career is a great time to address these biases and work to correct them -- an important message to keep in mind even after Women's History Month comes to a close.

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