If you are a female in a male-dominated industry, then you will likely relate to this article. Maybe you grew up wanting to work in construction, be a firefighter or a pilot. You likely noticed that most of the people in these positions are men. I hope you went for the career you wanted regardless. If you did, it’s possible that you faced a lot of difficulty, including discrimination and harassment. Women in male-dominated industries can face so many challenges, and I hope to explain my story and provide some pointers that helped me become successful in a male-dominated industry.
About 8 years ago, I found myself trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a career. I continuously felt like I was stuck in dead-end jobs. I had an interest in the construction field and was hoping to get a position at a local company. I was not able to get a position there, and to be quite honest, I was brushed off. However, I met a gentleman who owned a trucking company, and I set my sights on that. He owned and brokered multiple tri-axle dump trucks. He also owned a heating oil company. I was informed that there were not any open positions except for driving trucks. The owner also told me that it’s not a woman’s job. He made me want to prove him wrong more than anything.
I obtained my commercial license shortly after, and he hired me as his assistant. It turned out that obtaining my license showed the owner my determination and motivation, and because of that, he offered me a job. It did not take long for me to realize how hard it would be as a young female in this industry. Most of the drivers were older men and did not respect me at all. Many customers and subcontractors would not even talk to me to place their orders. I was often referred to as “the girl,” and many people said I was just hired to look at. Now, this kind of behavior may not exist as much in a more corporate setting, however in small business, a lot of the HR and professional tendencies do not exist either.
I was bombarded with constant remarks, shown significant lack of respect, and talked down to on a regular basis. I did learn quickly that I could only change the narrative through time and consistency. I stayed focused on learning the industry, setting proper boundaries, and giving people time to see my abilities. Throughout the course of a year, I was able to gain respect from employees. It took a bit longer and the support of the owner for the customers and subcontractors to give me the respect I deserved. I have now been running both companies for the last 7 years as CEO. I have gained respect and loyalty from the people who have worked with me. When I go out and meet someone who works in the industry and I try to sell my business, half the time they are asking me out on a date and the other half don’t even give me 5 minutes to discuss the industry. It’s as if they assume I have no idea what I am talking about. I saw the difference when my boss started a conversation with someone in the industry versus when I did. The response was completely different.
I have proved myself to all the people I work with and for, but the stereotypes and judgements never stop. Now I have the confidence needed to let it go and the strength and knowledge to persevere.
Women in the construction field will continue to have to fight to prove themselves, but I do believe that times are changing. Some of the lessons I can share with you are the following:
Stay focused on your goals and continue to put the work in. Showcase your abilities, your talents, and your motivation. When you show what you can do, like bringing in new business or making sales on your own, people will start to take you seriously. Results are something that people cannot argue with.
Aim high means to believe in what you can accomplish and don’t settle for less. When I was hired as an assistant, I didn’t settle for that. I studied and learned as much as I could about the industry in order to double the business. I aimed for the top and I did not settle for less. Believe in yourself and what you can accomplish if you put the work in.
Ignore the comments from others and do not let them stop you from doing you. Allowing negative comments to get in your head or to believe what others may say will only slow you down. If anything, use it to help drive you to prove them wrong. You are not obligated to prove them wrong, but know that you can.
This is probably the most important. I wanted to walk away many times because it just gets frustrating when you are being treated unfairly or you aren’t taken seriously. Don’t give up on yourself and stay focused. There will be people who don’t see you for what you really are, and there likely won’t be anything you can do to change that. Continue advocating for yourself, and you will meet people in the industry that see past the physical appearance and see you for what you bring to the table.
Being successful in male-dominated industries is a constant challenge, but it can be done. I won’t tell you it will be completely fair or that you will have the same opportunities, but if it’s a field you want to work in, then do not shy away from it. Work hard, stay focused, don’t settle for less than you deserve, and believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to join a woman’s network. Teaming up with other females in the industry can help prevent you from feeling isolated, it can provide support, and it can help you build rapport with other women who understand what you may be dealing with. You may have the opportunity to learn from these other women. I commend all of the women standing up to societal expectations and fighting stereotypes to do the job that they love.
This is a contributed piece by Laura Garrigan, a CEO of two small businesses, including a full service heating oil company and a trucking company out of Norwood, MA. She has been the CEO for 7 years and holds a Bachelors in Psychology, a Masters in Business Administration and multiple certifications in management and leadership. Laura is constantly trying to learn and grow personally and professionally. Her professional goals include opening her own business and building her real estate portfolio. Laura’s passions are helping others and making a difference in animal welfare and rescue.
Are you interested in writing an article for Massachusetts Business Network? Please fill out our contact form.