Career & Finance

Real Women Tell Us About Their Experience Working in a Male-Dominated Field

written by KELLY ETZ
Source: Social Squares
Source: Social Squares

Unfortunately, our reality as women is that we still face workplace challenges—from irritating man-splaining to overt sexual harassment—that men simply don’t need to think about or learn how to deal with. While nobody should ever have to deal with them, the issues are magnified for women working in male-dominated industries.

From “bro-culture” to assumptions that you don’t know how to do your job based on your gender, women working in these fields go to work every day already saddled with the task of proving their worth and abilities—a weight their male colleagues do not bear.

What can we do about this problem? Shine a light on it. Encourage women to speak out against these circumstances and to demand equal treatment (and pay). Here at The Everygirl, we want to be part of this movement. So we asked women working in male-dominated fields to reach out to us with their stories and their advice. We were blown away by their responses and hope our readers are similarly affected. Thank you to each and every woman who shared her story with us. We are honored to host your words.


Real women on their day-to-day experiences


Source: Social Squares


On dealing with the pay gap

I wonder if I get paid as much as my coworkers that are in similar positions as me, and I then wonder how I even broach the subject of pay inequality with my supervisor and manager.

— Jill, Environmental Engineering


On the added pressure of working under a microscope

It is very difficult to shake the feeling of always being under a microscope. In military aviation, pilots are constantly evaluated in all that we do—training flights, squadron presentations, you name it. Being one of just five female pilots in a squadron of 200+, my performance is highlighted since I stand out. I sometimes interact with men who have never worked or flown with a female pilot before, and that puts added pressure on me to make a good impression. I feel like if I do well, those men will have a positive impression of female pilots, but if I mess up, they will project my mistake onto female aviators as a whole.

— Caitlin, Pilot  



I want to preface this by saying that I love my male coworkers and most of the challenges I face come from dealing with those outside of the venue, but there are challenges I face that my colleagues don’t—simply because they are men.

I have to show up to work with a game face on every day and every night. When I’m inside the four walls of the venue, I have to prove that I am capable and deserve to be in my place of work to the men passing through—bands, managers, engineers, male customers—whereas that respect is inherently earned by my male colleagues. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been called “sweetie” and “honey” or been treated like I’m not in a leadership role (double whammy for being female and looking much younger than I actually am—not complaining about that one!). The look on men’s faces when I tell them I’m the manager is sometimes surprise, sometimes embarrassment. I’ve started to bite the bullet and introduce myself with my title as soon as the band loads in. The fact that I have to do that and my male coworkers don’t will never stop annoying me, but I would rather state my role and earn that respect right off the bat than have to fight an uphill battle all night.

— Kristen, Music Industry 


On the assumption that you “don’t understand” how to do your job

The biggest challenge by far is men doubting your knowledge of the games and athletes. Many assume you don’t understand the rules of specific sports or that you aren’t familiar with certain athletes. Trust me, I wouldn’t be working here if I didn’t have a solid understanding of the material because I wouldn’t be interested in it. 

— Olivia, Sports Advertising & Sales


I’ve faced challenges with men in this field externally and internally assuming that I (as a woman) do not know how to operate power tools properly, which, in fact, is part of my job. In reality, I know how to operate more tools than the average male and actually use power tools in my personal life for many DIY projects as well. So it can be frustrating to be automatically pegged as not being knowledgeable in this field due to my gender, especially when it directly relates to the success of my job. I feel that I have to fight twice as hard as my male counterparts to gain credibility in this field.

— Jenny, Power Tools Marketing


A lot of men in finance assume they know more about investing than women. It is blatantly obvious and always upsetting. At one point, a male coworker approached my desk red-faced and raising his voice because I corrected a particular statistic he was frequently using in his sales pitch, which caused an embarrassingly huge scene in the office where he attempted to belittle my intelligence in front of several coworkers. I can’t imagine the same reaction if it had been a male coworker.  

— Ella, Financial Services Industry


One thing I did notice is in the beginning, [my male coworkers] constantly asked if I needed help with jobs. It was frustrating at first, but it gave me all the more reason to show them that I was able to do the job just as well, if not better, than they could. In fact, because I had the smallest hands out of all of them, I was able to get into places under the hood that they couldn’t and change light bulbs that they couldn’t get to. After about a month, it was them asking me for help, which definitely felt like I’d earned their respect as a mechanic.

— Kate, Automotive Industry


On dealing with the outdated “boys’ club” mentality

There are hurdles for women when it comes to being promoted to leadership positions. Unfortunately, going for beers and golfing with the boss is still a way to promote oneself, and women often do not fit in with this “buddy, buddy” type method of promotion.

— Emma, Environmental Scientist


I think the biggest challenge is the “boys’ club” mentality. It’s one thing to say that there is a glass ceiling for women, but it’s an added challenge when you are also dealing with a boys’ club and not fitting in because you’re a woman. It creates a tough work dynamic in addition to contributing to your stalled career progression. 

— Kelly, Athletics Industry



On “man-terruptions”

One of the most prominent challenges that I face on the daily is what I refer to as “man-terruptions.” This normally occurs during meetings when a man and a woman start talking at the same time. I have noticed that almost always the woman will stop prior to the man and the man will continue on. I have also noticed that if a man says one thing and a woman says the same thing, it is the man who is remembered for stating whatever it was rather than a woman. It’s small challenges like this that aggravate me, and maybe because I work with an older, male-driven field, I notice these occurrences more and more.

— Alexis, IT


On the lack of respect from co-workers, clients, or customers

It has been challenging to earn respect as an expert from the customers and to relate to them. A lot of customers initially were willing to work with me for the “novelty” of working with a female. It took hustle to surmount the vertical learning curve and get the men around me to respect my position, my leadership, and my opinion.

— Christina, Commercial Plumbing


Especially in health care, there tends to be an omnipresent sentiment (from both other men in the field and from patients) that when you step into an operating room, you will be seen by a male. The most frequent comment I get is, “Well, I’ve never had a female dentist before.” Especially as a young, female practitioner, patients tend to think you’re the assistant or hygienist. Although by now, I take this with a grain of salt, there is the constant feeling that you need to prove yourself in this male-dominated field and earn the same respect as your male colleagues.

— Caris, Dentist


One of the most common challenges I’ve faced is being seen as an authority figure equal with my that of my male coworkers. It seems that men are seen as the “natural leaders.” This often causes people to look right past me, a female, as a capable leader in a position of authority.

— Emily, Youth Ministry


It’s extremely surprising how people look at you differently based on your appearance. Like, if I wear a dress to a video shoot people start actually acting as if I am less capable of working a camera.

— Kelsey, College Athletics


On derogatory language

I have been called a “bitch” more than once by men who (must) think the answers I give to their questions were inadequate. I’m sure that it will happen again. As a woman in a man’s industry, I have learned so much about myself over the past two years, and I have learned far more about men and the social constructs that older men grew up with and continue to blindly follow.

— Christina, Commercial Plumbing


There were multiple situations where drivers or even managers would make comments about things like me needing a boyfriend, how I needed to “get laid” or “be spanked,” male coworkers discussed going to strip clubs/breastaurants (Hooters, Twin Peaks—where they actually took me once), and even situations where our HR department told me I couldn’t file complaints about things like that because I had said the word f**k before.

— Allie, Logistics & Supply Train


On inappropriate and unwanted physical touch

I have had the unfortunate experience of being spoken down to, been called a “gal,” had my work not taken seriously, had my shoulders rubbed, and had my hair caressed. It’s tricky when you are only 24 years old and have just started at a firm that is male-dominated. What are you supposed to do in this situation?

— Ashwini, Accounting


Real women’s advice on how to deal with it


Source: Social Squares


Speak up, speak up, speak up

My advice is simple: If you are uncomfortable with something, voice your opinion. Do not be afraid that the office is male-dominated—you work hard and have every right to speak up. Stand up for yourself and demand respect (in a professional way, of course).

— Ashwini, Accounting


I have also learned throughout the years that speaking up is so important. I used to keep my mouth shut, even when I had an idea or I disagreed. Now, I will never let myself go unheard, and that confidence has been instrumental in building my credibility. Confidence is important when it comes to promotions as well. I know what I deserve, and I am not afraid to ask for it.

— Emma, Environmental Scientist


I’ve been very strategic in explaining these moments to my male colleagues. They have started noticing it and have been helpful in redirecting questions. My colleagues have also been intentional about giving me credit when credit is due. My strategy has also included being out in the tech community so people start recognizing who I am and that I’m an authority in the bootcamp field. I’ve started speaking at conferences and challenging myself to approach high-level executives during conferences and networking meetings. In essence, I’ve rallied people around me who can stand up for me, and I’ve also decided to approach my field with boldness.

— Julia, IT


My male co-workers are super receptive, and I communicate with them often about how it feels to be a female in this industry. Knowledge is power. No one is going to understand the female perspective if we don’t explain how specific situations in the workplace make us feel underscored, less than, or powerless. Some will say that “sharing our feelings” isn’t the right route to take, but I wholeheartedly disagree. If I feel like I didn’t get a word in edgewise during a meeting, I have no problem sharing that with my colleagues after said meeting. Yes, there’s a time and place for it, but we need to be a voice and an advocate for ourselves. If we don’t have those candid conversations about our positions in the workplace from time to time, no one will ever understand our point of view, and we won’t make progress.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, be an advocate and a sounding board for other women in male-dominated industries. If we’re going to overcome these challenges, we need to build each other up, celebrate our wins, and share our stories to empower one another.

— Kristen, Music Industry


Cultivate (or create!) a support system

Here in Chicago, my female co-workers and I are also a part of a group called Women in Chicago Sports. This group is fairly new, but it is comprised of the women working in the various sports TV/advertising offices as well as all of the Chicago pro sports front offices. We are all in this together, and it is a great feeling to have such a large support system not only within my company but my city as well.

— Olivia, Sports Advertising & Sales


You can’t second-guess yourself. I try to make sure that I learn as much as I can and understand that having a female perspective is important. It’s been a lifesaver to meet up with other female music journalists and have that support and know that we’re all going through the same things.

— Emily, Music Journalism


To overcome challenges that might arise from working in a male-dominated field, I recommend women help out other women! And if you’re the only woman—a situation I’ve been in before—find some like-minded men and align yourself with them. 

— Hope, U.S. Army


Find a professional group that will support you and offers professional development support. For me, that has been Society of Women Engineers. In college, it was Engineers Without Borders. I have found that it is important to have a perspective of why you do what you do. When you have a tough day, having a purpose outside of work will get you through. 

— Jill, Environmental Engineering


Try not to view other women as competitors. In some industries, it’s easy to fall into this because there are so few of us, and we’re all trying to get to the top. Most of the time, this means that women see a finite number of spots at that level for us, so the automatic feeling when we meet a new female colleague (especially if she’s good) is that we are threatened. Harboring this antagonistic feeling toward a colleague will do you absolutely no good. Instead, focus on you. What you’ll learn is that some of these women may turn out to be your biggest advocates and supporters.

— Laura, Athletics Industry 



Work your a** off, take pride in what you do, and remember why you started.

The best advice I can give is to work your ass off every day, especially if you’re new to the job, and, eventually, no one will be questioning your ability to do the job in a male-dominated field. You will probably be working harder than the men around you for quite a while, which is an unfortunate reality, but women are continually making great strides in the workplace, and I have faith that one day it won’t even be a question that a woman can do any job just as well (or better) than a man.

— Ella, Financial Services Industry


You have to toot your own horn. I used to think that my work product would speak for itself; if I was smart and hard-working, I would be rewarded by the universe. This is not the case. If you do something great but don’t tell anyone that is responsible for your career development, you may as well have not done that amazing thing. Look for tactful ways to promote your work. I used Twitter as a way to talk to my association’s members about what I was doing on their behalf, I would send emails to my boss and the board of directors to convey big wins and highlight my work, and I asked for two minutes at important meetings to update other departments on successes.

— Amy, Lobbyist


Don’t lose your confidence!

My advice to others working in a similar field would be to never lose your confidence. The second you start second-guessing yourself is the second that you fail. If you don’t believe in yourself in a male-dominated field, then it’s going to be nearly impossible to make others believe in you too. Never stop fighting the good fight and learn as much as you can to prove them all wrong.

— Jenny, Marketing Power Tools


First and foremost, I work very hard to be good at my job. I am far from perfect, but when I do have slip-ups, I try to actively fight my first instinct to feel guilty for making all female pilots “look bad.” If I’m the one who made the mistake, that should reflect on me—no one else. If someone thinks otherwise, that’s on them.

— Caitlin, Pilot


I’ve surprised myself by watching my confidence grow. I used to work as an EA (also known as a secretary), and when I finally got promoted and promoted again after years of hard work, I would still have days where that stupid little voice inside says, “You should have just stayed where you belong.” But f**k that voice. That voice isn’t the real me, and instead of listening to her, I just look at the facts: Am I good at my job? Yes. Can I run circles around the men in my office? Yes. Did I kill that last creative review? Yes. Am I lesser-than in any way? No.

— Alice, 3D Production


I wish I could say that these challenges don’t bother me and that I bounce back and am unfazed, but that isn’t always the case. There are days where things can really affect me and my confidence takes a hit. Those are the days where I need my girlfriends and a little bit more of that bottle of wine in my kitchen. On the flip side of this, there are days where I take those discouragements and turn them into motivation. Those are the days where I impress myself. I think this happens for women in all types of fields.

— Taylor, Car Sales


I try to remember and understand that the most important reason I’m in my role is to provide a unique perspective. I must embrace my perspective, and, most importantly, I must unapologetically share my perspective. Your perspective is why you were selected for the role and why you are getting paid—share it!

— Kerhyl, Athletics Industry



Editors’ Note: If you have or currently are experiencing sexual harassment at work, read this guide on the next steps you can take in that situation. Not sure if it’s sexual harassment? See this list of common examples.