In 2013, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg released her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The book was immediately hailed as a women’s manifesto to working in male dominated industries. Sandberg advised women to lean in, be active with corporate culture, share ideas and, above all else, make sure you are heard. While Sandberg’s book was touted as revolutionary, there are many women who are not only successful, but are thriving in male dominated fields; this, in turn, is opening the door to many possibilities for today’s young women.
Late last month when Canada’s new Prime Minister took office, the country was pleasantly surprised when Prime Minister Trudeau appointed female MPs to prominent ministerial positions, positions previously only held by men. At the press conference after the appointment, a reporter asked the new PM, “Why it was important to have women make up half his cabinet?” He simply replied, “Because it is 2015,” and the internet erupted. Memes, quotes and even t-shirts quickly circulated calling Trudeau a forward-thinking leader who understands the value and contributions women have to share.
While the last couple years have been a celebration of women, business women and female executives will tell you it has been a hard fought victory. If you ask 100 successful women what their tips for success in a male dominated business are, you will probably get 100 different responses. However, some key themes will emerge throughout the sectors and industries that women work in.
Roxanne Rivera, the owner of a construction company operating in the United States urges women to know their worth and the value of the contributions they offer. “Ultimately, your value to your organization is going to be based on providing a needed knowledge or skill that is in short supply,” Rivera told The Institute in an interview.
Female engineer, Aixa Lopez, has battled adversity and sexism in the male dominant engineering industry. Her word of advice for women is to claim your voice. “Men are really good at this, we tend to stay silent in meetings,” Lopez said to Business Insider. “We think that we should talk only when there’s something extremely important to say.”
Fast Company recently asked seven of the most influential women what advice they would offer their younger selves and young women who are just striking out in their careers. Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post said, “I hope young aspiring female entrepreneurs will begin their careers knowing something that took me decades to learn: Not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance, but performance is actually improved when our life becomes more balanced.”
Toronto-based business consultant Lisa Overholt has her own strategy for success, and it relies heavily on utilizing the skills that work. “Men are successful because they are assertive, dominant and unapologetic,” Lisa Overholt added. “So for women to be as successful, it is important they harness these skills.”
Overholt is on to something. A Stanford University report from 2011 found that women who exhibited the ‘masculine traits’ described by Lisa Overholt were more successful than their less aggressive female counterparts and even their aggressive male counterparts. “The interesting thing here is that being able to regulate one’s masculine behavior does not simply put women on par with men, it gives them even more of an advantage,” notes Olivia O’Neill. “This shows that for women who do want success at the managerial level, the paths are there.”
Experts also advise learning from women who are where you want to be – their wealth of knowledge will benefit you and help you build a network that can be a valuable resource. “I believe women need to be each other’s biggest supporters and allies, that way we can all succeed,” Lisa Overholt comments.
There has never been a better time historically to be a woman and we can only hope it continues to get better for our daughters and granddaughters.