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Kate Clay

eStar Truck & Van

HR Director

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Tips for women in a male-dominated workplace

Working in a male-dominated environment can be challenging. Women in male-dominated workplaces often have to deal with negative stereotyping and a lack of support. Is this an opportunity to grow as a leader in a tough climate?
woman standing on sand and facing at seashore: women fighting back to be heard and supported in male-dominated workplaces

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to work in retail, legal, third sector and automotive, and can honestly say that automotive, particularly in the commercial vehicle sector which I’m in, is and has always been male dominated. 

As an ambitious female, I have had to move out of companies to move up, but what this has provided me with is different industry experience among start-up businesses, large PLCs and not-for-profits. 

It has also meant that I have worked with a tremendous amount of people and learned a lot about managing stakeholders. 

When I first started my automotive career at the age of 20, I didn’t think much about it being male-dominated. It was more about being in the right role to gather the relevant experience for my career aspirations. 

Negative stereotyping

But as time went on, it was apparent that the industry typically attracted more men than women. Men tend to be more assertive, direct and focused in their approach. But if you compare that to women in a similar position, they can be deemed emotional, demanding and hard-faced, which is extremely unfair.

Women working in a male-dominated space often have to deal with negative stereotyping and a lack of support that can easily hold them back. Both in their career progression and in their day-to-day work.

Given my experience of navigating this challenge, I’d like to share some tips for women working in a male-dominated space who are struggling to be heard or supported.    

Women working in a male-dominated space often have to deal with negative stereotyping

1. Take the time to get your point across

As a woman working in a male-dominated space, you do, on occasion, have to become more assertive to get your points across. Quite often, maybe even inadvertently, your male-dominated team may not be on the same page. 

Taking time to explain the deeper meaning behind your ideas will allow your male counterparts a chance to understand where you’re coming from. 

While this may feel like you are having to justify yourself or your points (and I certainly don’t mean begging men to understand what your intentions are) like any stakeholder, you have to manage them accordingly. 

2. Grow your support network 

This leads me back to managing stakeholders and managing upwards, and how that can be a delicate balance whilst you’re still trying to do your job. Especially in HR, when your role is to look after everyone else, ensure others have career progression and are developed. 

We go back to the age-old ‘who looks after HR’ question. Having a support network, be that men or women, which you can lean upon when needed, is important. 

Finding those who genuinely will speak your name in a room full of opportunities sometimes feels like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes you come across these people by accident, others you meet while putting yourself out there and learning to feel comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. 

This also supports your own growth, as well as growing your own network with people you can trust and rely upon. 

Having a support network … is important

3. Find a mentor

While some organisations are lucky to have mentoring programmes, others simply will not and therefore to expand your knowledge and learning, you need to take this initiative yourself. Mentors can take different shapes and forms and are not always within your own organisation. 

Whilst internally this will give you relative experience and knowledge, looking outside of your business or even sector will provide you with a wider basis upon which to further your own learning. 

Is there someone you look up to? Who have you seen recently that has inspired you? Who do you respect? These are all questions to ask yourself to identify someone who could mentor you. 

The next step is simply to ask. Most good leaders would jump at the chance to mentor others; that is one of the key elements of a good leader. 

4. Give back

You get to a point in your career where it’s time to give back and support other women on their own journey. 

Mentoring others within the business and sharing your own experiences gives others an insight into areas that may take the mentee years of experience to gain organically.

Creating a safe environment for women to flourish is vitally important

5. Make fundamental changes from within 

Creating a safe environment for women to flourish is vitally important, especially within male-dominated sectors. Use your position within HR and the influences that you have within the organisation to make a genuine difference, not just a token, standard, or expected change.

For example, I’m not talking about family-friendly policies, or flexible working, I’m talking about initiatives that make a difference to women’s working lives. Start by asking the women in your business what their views are, what they need and what they would like to see.

Confronting the challenge

Working in a male-dominated environment is a challenge, but not an impossibility. 

Flip the lens and see it as a positive: you have the opportunity to grow as a leader in a tough climate and to support and improve the working lives of women facing similar obstacles within your organisation.

If you enjoyed this, read: Women should not bear the burden of stopping misogyny at work

Author Profile Picture
Kate Clay

HR Director

Read more from Kate Clay