THE ELITE CAREER BLOG

Working in a Male Dominated Workplace: What’s it really like?

Woman having to deal with a predominantly male workplace.

Here at Elite, most of the team have worn a few different hats before we found our passion for writing.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience many different seasons in my career, and a couple of times I found myself the only female in very male-dominated workplaces. Firstly, as the Administration Manager in a construction company, and then later as a Chef in a large hotel. Both experiences were rewarding in their own ways. I gained some great perspective, made some terrific friends, and learned so many new skills. That’s not to say, however, that at times I didn’t long to be back in an environment that was far less testosterone driven.

For me, re-training as a Chef was a huge move and something I’d long wanted to do. Changing careers can be tough at the best of times but leaving behind the comfort zone of my office job with a close cohort of female co-workers was huge! Had I entered the industry a decade earlier in my early twenties instead of my early thirties, I don’t think I would have lasted. The jokes, the sexism and the disregard for making any accommodations to make me feel comfortable in the workplace would have seen me running for the hills after week one!

Fortunately, I entered the profession with over a decade of HR experience behind me, and a keen understanding of my entitlements in the workplace. I was not the kind of apprentice that they were used to, and I’d like to think that I made a lasting (mostly positive) impression there, achieving some changes that made for an easier time for the women that along came after me.

What are some of the challenges you might face?

As a woman in a primarily male workplace or industry, you might come up against a few difference challenges. I’ve broken them down as follows:

Workplace culture

A key challenge in a male dominated workplace can be the culture. You might be constantly referred to as ‘mate’ or ‘love’, subjected to off-colour jokes or inappropriate materials in the workplace (think calendars with scantily clad women), or find yourself in the firing line of flatulence that would never occur publicly in a female dominated workplace.

Actual or perceived bias

This can range from behind excluded from doing tasks because you’re a woman, or on the flipside, being EXPECTED to do certain tasks because you’re a woman, through to being seen and openly spoken of as ‘the token female’ filling a participation quota. It’s also not unheard of for women to receive lower pay while doing the same job as their male colleagues. The gender pay gap is still very real, and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has some sobering statistics here. We’ve still got a long way to go, folks.

Structural issues

From having no allocated female changing space, through to a lack of sanitary bins in the toilet or suitably sized PPE. Policies in many organisations remain geared primarily towards male employees, without taking into consideration situations that may occur for a woman, such as pregnancy and the requirement for maternity leave.

Being in the spotlight

If you’re one of the only women in a male dominated workplace, you may find yourself feeling the pressure to perform. Almost as if your individual performance is representative of how all women would perform in the role! I found at times that when I made a mistake, there was an element of implied sexism – as though I’d made the mistake because I was a female, rather than for the real reason which was that I was an apprentice and still learning.

How can you overcome these challenges?

  • Speak up when something is wrong, or when things could be improved in the workplace.
    A simple conversation can go a long way if something is making you uncomfortable.  Alternatively, you could suggest to the management team if you think there is structural change needed. If you believe you are being discriminated against due to your gender, please take steps with the HR team to ensure measures are put in place that give you the safety and respectful working environment  you deserve. If you’re not comfortable raising the issue at the workplace level, there are external avenues you can pursue. The Australian Human Rights Commission has some great info.

  • Keep an open mind.
    A male dominated workplace can be a really rewarding environment but may require a different mindset that you would usually occupy in a female dominated workplace. Personally, I found the directness of communication quite refreshing. I always knew where I stood, even if the language was a little more colourful than it needed to be at times! Be prepared to be flexible on some things (within reason, of course) while remaining true to your own values and boundaries.

  • Seek out an ally.
    This might be a male colleague who speaks out when they see something that’s not right, or a manager who is supportive of creating a workplace that caters to the needs of both genders. Finding that person to have in your corner so that you’re not the lone voice speaking out against these issues can be a huge morale boost.

  • Remind yourself of the positives of the job, and why you’re there.
    Perhaps it’s to take a huge career leap into the unknown (we talk about navigating career change here), to progress your existing career or to follow something that you’re deeply passionate about. Every role and industry has its negatives, no matter whether you work in a male or female-dominated industry. It can be easy to forget the positives and get bogged down in all of the negatives sometimes.

What should you consider if you’re thinking about moving to a male dominated industry?

We say it all the time, but you simply MUST think about what’s important to you in a workplace. Learning to survive, (and ideally, thrive!) in a male dominated workplace can push you out of your comfort zone. But if you’re willing to get a little uncomfortable at times, the rewards can be great. It’s important to note that not every male-dominated workplace will be a challenging place to work! Our society as a whole becomes more progressive and poor behaviour in the workplace becomes less tolerated, the challenges I’ve outlined above will hopefully become less and less of an issue.

Know your rights before you start in any new workplace, especially when you may be in the gender minority. Fair Work Australia has a great summary here.

 

Understand what your personal boundaries are, and what you will and won’t tolerate in a workplace and be prepared to stand up for yourself to protect these boundaries. In my case, I was happy to partake in some more robust banter than had previously existed in my old workplaces, but I established early on with my colleagues what my limits were and requested that they respect those limits. In some workplaces, you may need to make a little noise to effect change, and this can be an uncomfortable position to be in at times. It can also be very empowering and leave you feeling like a trailblazer.

How can we help?

Having now read about the challenges that may exist within male dominated workplaces, you might now be thinking it’s time to make that long desired change of role or industry. Or perhaps you’re already working in a male-dominated industry and you’re ready to move on? Either way, we’d love to support you with your next move, and there’s a range of ways that we can work together to achieve your goals.

 

At The Elite Collective, we create professional, highly converting resumes, cover letters, and pitch documents for career-driven professionals. Our team of professional writers will help you unpack your professional story and approach your job search with CONFIDENCE.  

Whether it’s a professional resume, selection criteria or interview coaching – we’ve got you covered. Click through to explore our services and packagesor reach out for a free resume review and obligation-free quote.  

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