My Experience as a Young Woman in a Male-Dominated Industry
I have had an incredibly rewarding career in manufacturing for 4 years. My clients are in a variety of industries, from a fastener manufacturer that develops the nuts and bolts that are necessary to hold your car, refrigerator and every day devices together, to an advanced 3D metal printing client that regularly collaborates with NASA and Oak Ridge National Laboratories. I take pride in the fact that the work that I do really matters. I represent clients that manufacturer the parts, products and devices that are necessary for our society to function and thrive.
While I absolutely love my career and the work that I do, being a young woman in a male-dominated industry has also had its challenges. A few of many scenarios that highlight the difficulties I have faced as a woman in manufacturing are as follows:
Being told by a client that I cannot walk on the factory floor because I “slow down production.”
Having a client tell me I have “male characteristics” after I tried to stop the side chatter in our meeting and get back to the agenda.
Having multiple prospects disregard me by sending my boss ‘thank you for presenting’ emails but not thanking me or even cc-ing me on those emails when I co-presented with him.
These experience and countless others took a toll on my self-confidence and left me feeling burnt out after the first year of my career. I loved the work I was doing but I was tired of feeling undervalued. I felt as if my prospects and clients viewed me as a ‘glorified secretary’ in meetings. Below are some recommendations that have helped me along the way. While these tactics have not completely eliminated the challenges above, they have improved dramatically.
1. Finding Your Tribe- There are women’s only groups in every industry imaginable. Since I am in the manufacturing sector, I joined Women in Manufacturing (WiM) . WiM is a national organization with chapters throughout the United States. Joining this group and becoming the Ohio Chapter’s communications chair has been a gratifying experience. Prior to WiM, I was used to being the only woman in the room. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I would find another woman at a networking event. When I attended my first WiM event, I was blown away by how many women there are in manufacturing. I was able to connect with other like-minded women who share my experiences and challenges. The networking and sales opportunities that come from women-only groups are invaluable. Highly recommend you search for one related to your industry in the nearest city.
2. Collaborate with Your Manager or Boss – One of the biggest steps I took to improve my work situation was talking to my boss, Rob, about my concerns. I expressed how I was feeling disrespected and not taken seriously by prospects and clients. I gave specific examples and asked him if there was anything I could do on my part to improve the situation. My boss heard me loud and clear. Rob validated my feelings and took steps to help me. We collaborated together on our presentation style. He gave me sections in presentations that were solely mine and let me be the ‘expert’. If a client asked a question during my section, he let me answer it and do my thing. What I learned by sharing my feelings with my boss is to be open when something is bothering you. As women, we tend to put others before ourselves and talk ourselves out of speaking up. We convince ourselves that we’re being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘silly’ for feeling this way. If whoever is reading this gains anything, I hope it’s that YOU matter and are a valuable asset to your team. Your boss, manager, and co-workers all want you to look good and succeed. When you succeed, they benefit from it, and so does the company as a whole. Speak up and work with your team to fix the situation. You won’t regret it.
3. Learn How to ‘Talk-The-Talk’- I made a conscious decision to not let being one of the few females in the manufacturing industry be my focus. I concentrated on honing my skills and producing content that would position me as an authority in business-to-business manufacturing marketing and sales enablement. I started filming videos on my phone or laptop for LinkedIn. Topics I’ve made videos about include: “Now is the Time to Plan Your Manufacturing Day Events”, “How to Use Video in Sales Emails for Ultimate Success”, and “The Free Tool All Manufacturing Sales Managers Should Use.” It is important to get comfortable with talking about what you do and what makes your company special. It is equally important to add value and build relationships based on trust with your prospects.
By creating these simple videos, I gained more exposure and also, made myself a valuable resource for manufacturers. I was recognized at networking events by acquaintances and strangers alike as “the girl who produces those great videos”. If the thought of posting videos is daunting to you, Toastmasters is a great way to improve your speaking skills and boost confidence. The international organization has chapters in most towns and cities. It gives participants the opportunity to practice speaking in a supportive environment and receive constructive feedback. I have many friends who have benefited from Toastmasters and been able to overcome their public speaking fears. The only way you are going to sound like an authority in your industry is by practicing. Take every opportunity to speak about what you do and if you aren’t getting opportunities in your workplace, make them yourself.
Have any other tips women can use to flourish in a male-dominated industry? Please leave them in the comments below.