Stop Saying Sorry: How To Succeed as a Woman in a Male-Dominated Field

Two women talk at work

I work at a software company where the number of male employees vastly outnumbers the number of female employees. To emphasize the skewed ratio of men to women, I like to point out that there are as many men named Andrew as there are women at the company.

It can be difficult to work in a male-dominated setting. I sometimes feel out of place and less-than as I report to a leadership team of almost all men. While in an ideal world, all workplaces would be diverse and inclusive, I have found ways to be more comfortable, maintain confidence, and find my voice in a setting where my point of view is underrepresented.

Find a community (no matter how small)

Due to the small number of women at my current company, we started a weekly call to have a safe space to chat and support one another. While at times we discuss work issues and initiatives, we also use it as a place where we can openly chat with one another about our lives. It has been encouraging to network with other women at the company I wouldn’t normally interact with daily. Even though it’s a small group, I very much appreciate this community of women.

I’m also grateful that we’ve used our time together to discuss diversity and inclusion initiatives. We are actively working to make the office a more welcoming space. To achieve that goal, we worked to alter the language within our job descriptions to attract people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

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Seek outside resources that support women in the workplace

If there are no female leaders to look up to at your company, then it’s worth taking a step outside of your organization to network or find a community of professional women to support you on your career goals. From finding local meetup groups, to reading online magazines made for women in the workplace, to following female influencers who provide career tips, these resources can give you the support of knowing you’re not the only woman navigating this professional space.

I joined a Facebook group for women in marketing and it’s a supportive network of female professionals who are always uplifting one another. Women use the group to share well wishes, helpful articles, and job postings. The group even hosted a speed networking event over Zoom, so we could meet with one another and stay connected on a professional and personal level.

Advocate for yourself and other women

All women in the workplace should be treated with respect and given proper credit for their accomplishments, but unfortunately, many women in the workplace aren’t treated with the same respect given to men. In my professional career so far, I’ve faced several instances of men speaking down to me or assuming I didn’t have the same knowledge as my male peers. We must advocate for ourselves and other women to achieve a more equitable work environment. 

One of the main ways I advocate for myself at work is by speaking with confidence. I choose not to use minimizing language such as, “sorry,” “maybe,” or “just my opinion” as these words and phrases diminish my authority. I now proofread all my emails before I send them to remove this hedging language. When I speak with confidence at work, I show my colleagues that I am a strong and capable workplace professional and I should be treated as such.

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Unfortunately, in my professional career, I’ve also had to advocate for myself by reporting cases of sexual harassment to human resources. While it was difficult to speak up about these uncomfortable situations, I knew it was important to report these offenses. If I didn’t report these cases of inappropriate comments and behavior, it’s likely they would’ve continued to occur against me or other women in the office. 

If you face any form of harassment or inappropriate behavior in the workplace, I encourage you to report it to human resources. To make the process easier, you can also seek support from a trusted colleague or utilize any anonymous reporting tools your company may have in place. 

Whether you report inappropriate behavior in the workplace or aim to eliminate your use of minimizing language, you’ll be supporting yourself and other women as you take steps to achieve a more equitable workplace.

It can be difficult to navigate your professional career as a woman in a male-dominated workplace but know that you are not alone on this journey. Taking steps to find a community, seek outside resources, and advocate for yourself and others will help you build confidence and succeed in your professional career. 

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