Do’s and Dont’s for a woman working in a male dominated industry

Navigating the workplace can be tricky more so if you’re a woman in a testosterone filled environment.

My attachment year was a cringe-fest. Lots of mistakes were made I tell you.

But as they say, you live and learn. Below are a few things I learnt about working in the minefield that is a male dominated industry.

DO: Resist the stereotype

You may be singled out to perform tasks that are stereotypically for women such as serving tea or taking minutes during a meeting because ‘you have a better handwriting’.

If you notice that you’re the one who tends to be called upon to do this because you’re a woman there may be a need to tell your supervisor how you feel about that.

Also ask that those duties be rotated especially if there are also male interns in the department.

DONT:  Try to be one of the boys

If you find yourself being the only woman working with a crew of men it probably seems easier to act like one of the boys in order to alleviate the tension.

Laughing at their sexist jokes, swearing etc. It’s not necessary. Just be yourself and emphasize your professionalism.

Allow boys to be boys up to a point. Don’t let them disrespect you in order to prove that you’re ‘cool’.

DO: Defend yourself

It seems that sexual harassment is ubiquitous in male dominated industries.  With unwanted advances it is important to be quite clear with your ‘No’. If the harassment continues go ahead and report it.

It helps if you have proof in the form of texts or recordings. The new age harasser is smart so you may have to record the perpetrator discretely.

Proof lends credence to your claims and provides some protection from gas-lighting. A friend shared with me a trick that can be used when an offhand comment is made.

Look the perpetrator in the eye and ask them to say it again as though you didn’t hear them the first time. Some tend to fold.

DO: Secure a mentor

Mentors are important. I went through my internship without one and it was rough.

As a budding female engineer you need that listening ear and words of advice from someone who has walked the same path before you.

I was the only female engineering intern at the company and I was the only female in my department. I was drowning in a sea of testosterone and I yearned for a female hand to pull me back to the surface.

It was then that I began to appreciate the efforts of organizations that provide a space for women in STEM. Organizations such as Tea in 60 ;).

DONT: Be invisible

It’s very comfortable being in the shadows but it doesn’t serve you well if you want to get ahead.  Voice your ideas. Allow yourself to be heard.

Volunteer to do things. Women will do most of the work while the more vocal people on the team allow the credit to fall to them. Don’t fall into that trap.

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Tea in 60 is a community that seeks to bring about the much needed practical one-on-one conversations between girls interested in STEM and women already in the field. In one hour, girls in high school, as well as those that are in or have just finished tertiary education will have an opportunity to discuss anything they want in the career of their choosing with a selected mentor.