The number of women in the workforce is steadily rising, yet discrimination against their gender remains common. Pew Research Center found that 42% of working women in the U.S. experience such at work. The discrimination isn’t just manifested through the gender pay gap. Women also often experience being perceived as incompetent simply because of their gender.
Gender biases can run high in male-dominated workplaces. And sadly, it’s regarded as normal. For the longest time, we have been conditioned to assume that males are better suited for certain jobs than females.
Behaviors like that are hard to unlearn if they’ve been normalized for so long. But if we don’t fix them, women will continue to face safety risks at work. They can be bullied, harassed, sabotaged, or abused.
And if a woman makes a mistake at work, a manager or client can attribute it to their gender and nothing else. To avoid such scenarios — or handle them if it comes down to it — here’s what women can do:
1. Focus on Developing Yourself
If you’re going to work in a male-dominated field for the first time, it’s normal to feel intimidated. However, don’t show it. Put on a strong, charismatic image. You don’t have to adopt a commanding presence, but at least, hold your head high and always make eye contact when speaking to someone.
Presenting yourself in such a way draws respect. It sends a message that you’re not coming to work to be bossed around by colleagues in your rank. Though it’s a sad reality that we need to look sharp to be respected, you can use it to your advantage. Take it as an opportunity to develop your personality. Being meek in a male-dominated workplace can make you perceived as submissive, after all.
Even if you’re shy, try to appear bold. Apply “fake it until you make it” in your everyday life. This is important because it’ll allow you to set an example for young girls. Your role at work will help them unlearn the notion that girls aren’t the smart ones and that boys are gifted.
Research has proven this effect. It has been found that women who are exposed to powerful female role models are more likely to promote leadership roles for women. Hence, own your job and don’t allow yourself to be “mansplained”. The energy you’ll draw will keep sexists and bullies at bay.
2. Empower Women in Male-Dominated Industries
Show camaraderie to your fellow women by empowering them in their industries. For example, women in the construction industry started Professional Women in Construction (PWC). It’s a nonprofit organization with chapters in different U.S. cities. They help women in the industry find business and work opportunities, and more.
Participating in an organization will help you identify the challenges women often experience at work. According to a Cornell University study, those are mistreatment, lack of support (emotional and financial), lack of a voice, and feeling incompetent. Work with your chosen nonprofit in finding ways to address these challenges without costing the women their roles.
3. Step Back from a Problem Before Addressing It
Problems are best addressed immediately. But sometimes, taking a step back is advantageous. It allows you to gather your bearings and conjure solutions with a level head.
For example, if you’ve been given a bad review by your boss, don’t immediately take it personally. Trace where the bad feedback might’ve come from first. Maybe you missed a deadline or went to work late multiple times. Those mistakes will indeed elicit negative feedback.
You can also ask your boss directly why. If they refused to offer an explanation or said sexist remarks like “you’re distracting your male colleagues” or “you don’t make me a coffee”, raise the issue to HR. Those aren’t acceptable explanations. Bad feedback should only come from work-related shortcomings.
4. Get Help from a Legal Expert
Gender discrimination is against the law. If you’re bullied, harassed, or shown bias because you’re a woman, seek legal counsel from a lawyer. You can hold your employer liable if they turn a blind eye to discrimination.
In a work-related incident, don’t let your gender be used against you. For instance, if you’re driving to work and your car gets hit by a reckless truck driver, have a trustworthy truck accident lawyer defend you. Chances are the offending driver would say that women are bad drivers, hence the accident. Don’t let yourself and your lawyer be bullied. More drivers may be male, but they’re the ones more likely to die in a crash. As such, your gender doesn’t influence your driving skills at all.
Overall, don’t tolerate discrimination and other forms of mistreatment. Stand your ground when defending yourself. When more women fight back, male-dominated workplaces would stop with their pointless biases.