After graduating, I completed a four month consultancy internship in the construction industry – not exactly famed for its high ratio of female employees!
Transitioning from psychology lecture halls filled with 90% women to boardrooms where I was the only woman took some adjusting to.
Here are some of my biggest lessons!
The minority effect
Research shows that we all feel less confident when we are the minority in the room- be that in terms of gender, race, or age. It is important to actively address this instinctive lack of confidence. I used to push myself by setting little targets- firstly it was just to speak up at least once every meeting I was in.
As I grew in confidence, my targets got harder: to challenge a solution that I didn’t agree with, or to put my own ideas forward. Soon I no longer had to build myself up before speaking in meetings – it came naturally!
Women typically use less confident language than men in business settings. This sometimes reflects higher levels of self-doubt: research shows that in areas stereotypically seen as masculine, women are likely to under-estimate their ability, whilst men over-estimate.
Women’s use of more tentative language may also be driven by reinforced gender norms. We’re socialised to believe that men should be assertive, whilst women should be polite and soft-spoken. This can lead to many women attempting to soften their points in order to not sound forceful. Unfortunately, this manner of speaking suggests uncertainty, and often undermines what you are trying to say.
Some phrases to work on eliminating include:
“Does that make sense?”
“I’m not sure though…”
“… but I don’t know.”– 21 year old me, repeatedly, after making a cogent and valid point
Numerous studies have demonstrated that women are far more likely to be interrupted than men-especially in “male-dominated” environments. The culprits aren’t just men- with women also much more likely to interrupt other women than their male counter-parts.
So how should you react when you’re interrupted? The key is to strike a balance between remaining professional but assertive. Battle the instinct to ignore the interruption, to apologise, or to ask for permission to carry on (e.g.: “I’m sorry, can I continue?”). Instead, calmly point out that you had not finished talking.
“There are just a few more points I would like to cover before we move on.“
“I’m sure your feedback will be extremely valuable, but I would like to finish my point first.“
Female role models.
Ironically, one of the best parts of working in a male dominated industry was meeting some truly inspirational women along the way! On a practical level, they provided some great advice on navigating the challenges of working in a male dominated environment. On a more personal level, seeing these women excel in high level positions massively motivated me! Your company may have women’s groups that you can join. If not, LinkedIn is an amazing platform to use to connect with female mentors who are passionate about widening the accessibility of STEM careers. Just make sure to approach these conversations politely and tactfully, and understand that not every woman is going to want to talk about gender – and that’s ok!
I hope this has been helpful! Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments.