How Women Can Navigate Male-Dominated Workplaces: Five Interviews with Inspiring Females

Attention ambitious women! Times are changing and we’re seeing more women accomplish great things in the working world. Many workplaces provide accommodating environments to support, challenge, and grow young female professionals. Sadly, not every workplace is perfect.

Keep reading to learn how some women who I admire are navigating their own careers when confronted with workplace challenges. And they shared advice on how men can help women as well.

This topic of women in the workplace came to me because multiple female contacts asked me for advice or vented about the obstacles they experience on a day-to-day basis. This issue perplexed me because I couldn’t relate to their circumstances. This project opened my eyes to this issue and I’m excited to provide some advice for others dealing with similar struggles.

It was truly an honor to pick the brains of these individuals and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Thank you.

SueMolinaSue Molina

Ms. V. Sue Molina was a tax partner at Deloitte & Touche, LLP, an international accounting firm and has nearly thirty years of public accounting experience. She was the National Partner in charge of Deloitte’s Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women where she was an advocate for diversity in a historically male-dominated industry. She was recognized as one of “The Top 100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Profession” by Accounting Today.

She currently serves as a Director for DTS, Inc, a leading company specializing in High-Definition audio software, and she is on the board for Vital Voices, a non-profit organization promoting female entrepreneurs and leaders around the world.

Earn Credibility

During the beginning stages of Sue’s career, the corporate accounting industry was a male-dominated culture. She was usually the only female in the room regardless if she was with clients, colleagues, or her superiors. This forced her to ask, “How can she gain these circles’ respect?”

Her solution was to put in long hours so she could earn credibility and become extremely knowledgeable in her field. She knew her confidence in her ideas was the best way to make a difference – especially when her recommendations were contradictory. When she presented her ideas, she remained firm and explained her rational to articulate why she developed her recommendations and why they made sense for the person involved.

By gaining credibility, others admired her pertinent knowledge and insights, thus Sue gained respect from her colleagues, clients, and superiors.

Words of Wisdom: You can have it all. But, you cant have it all, all the time.

Sue raised a family during her working years and her strongest words of advice were for young women who are starting families. Sue knew time spent with her family meant time away from work. Not putting in long hours alongside her colleagues meant she couldn’t be upset for not getting the promotions.

She urged new mothers to consider working during the child-rearing years to stay relevant in the industry. Workplaces are becoming more receptive to this trend by allowing employees to work part-time or in flexible work arrangements like working from home. This way your career isn’t halted where you need to play catch-up when you return to the workplace.

How Guys Can Help: “Ask for change alongside women.”

Her advice for men to help young women in the workplace was to advocate for flexible work arrangements so the idea of family leave to raise children isn’t solely a women’s workplace issue.

PicStephanie Hesse

Stephanie works as a leader for one of the world’s largest Financial Services firms. She’s earned three promotions to three different teams since joining the company in 2010. She now assists her internal team’s efforts with Business Strategy and Risk Management.

When she’s not working, Stephanie is spending time with her two dogs, her family, and traveling across the globe.

Choose the Right Work Culture

The Financial Services industry is historically known as a male-dominated culture. However, Stephanie notices a change in recent years where the new hires reflect a more gender-balanced workplace. She feels supported since her company is seen as a forerunner in female leadership development by offering numerous groups for female professionals as well as appointing many females into leadership roles. In Stephanie’s personal experience, she’s had three bosses and all of them were females.

Since her workplace provides this supportive environment, she understands that there’s equal opportunity for each person – male or female – to prove his/her professional contribution to earn more opportunities. She encourages each person to find a workplace where respect and support are guiding principles of the organization.

Words of Wisdom: Do as much as you can as early as you can.

Stephanie joined her company eager to make an impact. She worked eighteen-hour days to prove her work-ethic, intelligence, and her willingness to make a difference. This grunt work opened the door for opportunities like when she trained in New York, was promoted to a team in San Francisco, and currently works in Los Angeles.

Stephanie feels that her early days filled with long hours allowed her to gain more freedom in her current role. She’s excited that she now works on the internal side of the organization and has a promising path in front of her that is more accommodating for her future career and family plans.

How Guys Can Help: Encourage when needed.

Once it’s apparent that a female isn’t being treated fairly in the workplace, step in and provide encouragement and support. Not every boss will provide the mentorship each young professional needs to develop. Stephanie reminds you to read each situation differently and then handle the predicament in an appropriate manner – even if that means reaching out to another superior for guidance.

KristinNeuharthKristin Neuharth

Kristin Neuharth is the creative director and owner of NEUdesign Company, a design group that offers creative design and development through web, print, and logo media for visual brands. Previously, Kristin worked with media companies by spearheading the design for interactive projects.

She has more than fifteen years of experience in graphic design and brings an optimistic, passionate, and delightful personality to her business.

Establish Genuine Relationships

Kristin previously worked in a “good ol’ boys” atmosphere where she was one of the only females. At the beginning, she felt uneasy in group meetings so she alleviated this mental burden by getting to know her coworkers as individuals. By getting to know these people, she saw the faces at the table rather than the group as a whole. She chatted at the water-cooler and went out to coffee with her colleagues where they opened up about their careers, lives, and passions. She asked for their advice on how to deal with certain situations where they would sometimes share entertaining stories, thus paving way for genuine bonds to form.

By getting to know her colleagues better, she understood that they were all once young and new in their careers and went through many similar challenges which she felt. She listened and saw these people as business people who she could learn from to improve her own working persona. By establishing rapport with her colleagues, her confidence increased because she felt included and part of the team.

Words of Wisdom: Do your job well and that will speak louder than words.

Currently, Kristin enjoys the solo-entrepreneur lifestyle while helping her clients’ design projects. She understands that if she puts in the work and the time she will achieve the outcomes. In her previous roles, she was part of a team in a traditional business environment where she saw others get promotions and accolades which made her tilt her head sideways in confusion. She mentioned that the business world is finicky and doesn’t always follow the “input=output” formula. Meaning that she found herself demoralized when she said to herself, “I’ve done all the work. My clients, coworkers, and bosses are happy with me and my talent. Why isn’t this working out?”

Kristin encourages you to stay true to who you are and what you value as a person and employee. Everything wont always go your way. But knowing that you did it to the best of your ability, while staying true to your principles and values, will give you worth.

How Guys Can Help: Set the example on how to treat others.

If the workplace does cater towards an “old guys” culture, buck the trend and set the example on how to treat your female colleagues. As Kristin says, this will help not only change the current workplace, but create a new office of equality for future employees as millennials grow and age into the workplace.

EmilyDonnellyEmily Donnelly

Emily Donnelly works for Putnam Investments as a Regional Marketing Director. She began her career with this company in 2010 and earned a promotion to her current title in 2014. She’s constantly on the road covering her territories in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. She brings new-age thinking to an aging and a male-dominated industry.

Emily has a bright future ahead of her due to her work-ethic and talents. While not consulting Financial Advisors, she’s running, skiing, and partaking in the enjoyable Colorado lifestyle.

Always Dress Your Best

Emily shared her advice on how to carry yourself as a young female in business. She articulated her points better than I could summarize, so I’ll let Emily have the floor.

Before anything comes out of your mouth, first, ask yourself, How are you presenting yourself? I love that I get asked if I’m interviewing when I’m in between meetings (i.e. at banks, Starbucks, etc.). I get asked multiple times a week, it’s great! Always dress your best. Dress conservatively and professionally. Low heels, matching suit (i.e. you bought it together at the same store), keep your hair clean (and don’t play with it!), no cleavage, and look very polished. I always dress very professional and if I’m not, then my confidence drops.

Words of Wisdom: How to build confidence: be a student and dont get stumped on the same question twice.

Again, in Emily’s words:

I use being a female to my advantage. I’m confident in what I do, so I give that persona off immediately, but don’t be full of yourself. Forget your age. Don’t be intimidated if you’re twenty years younger. Understand their interests. Be knowledgeable on current events in sports. Guys make small talk about sports so be able to hold your own. Read the Wall Street Journal, know what’s going on in the world, watch Caddy Shack to know the “old boys clubs” jokes, know how to play golf, and just be able to relate. Ask questions and be relevant.

How Guys Can Help: “Nip it in the bud.”

Emily insists that workplaces need not be segregated and for everyone to help when and where appropriate. Don’t let a “boys vs. girls” culture develop.

KimTornerudKim Tornerud

Kim Tornerud never goes for the easy job. Kim makes a difference in the international mining industry and travels often. Her love of foreign languages led her to work for companies with international purposes and she proudly represents these companies at the negotiation table.

Kim currently works for Black & Veatch, a global company specializing in infrastructure development, as a Director of Business Development, Operational Technology and Analytics. When Kim is not working she is pursuing her many passions as well as spending time with her family.

Take Your Power

If you’re dealing with alphas, act alpha. When at a meeting, take up at least two feet of space. Spread your papers, notebook, and other supplies across an area at the meeting table. Kim says that men will let women be small and women need to own their place.

Watch your body language and be sure to broaden your shoulders. Don’t make your statements sound like questions (example: “I’m Ron Burgandy?”) and hold your ground when you’re speaking. If someone interrupts your comment, counter in a respectful way by saying, “Let me finish.”

Words of Wisdom: Get good at something.

Kim speaks English, Russian, Swedish, and French. She also has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She says these fun facts let rapport-building conversations develop. There’s no need to talk about the weather when in front of Kim.

Make yourself stand out and own what makes you unique. Never down play your interests, passions, and talents. Be proud and put these personal details on your résumés and your LinkedIn profiles. Kim says you’ll be more relaxed during professional conversations after you let the person get to know you as a person.

How Guys Can Help: Get with the times.

It’s everyone’s duty to ensure that the last remnants of sexism fall victim to these changing times. In Kim’s words, “you should already get this!” Don’t be obnoxious. Be a team player. Invite women to outings and be aware of the double standards which exist. An example is seen by this common question working mothers get asked: “don’t you miss your kids?” Working fathers are rarely asked this question so remove this question from your professional language.

Also, a final word of advice from Kim Tornerud goes for every working professional: “Never sleep with the boss.”


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