The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you excel in a male-dominated industry?” is written by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
I found myself very early in life wanting to go into male-dominated fields. I signed up for advanced classes in math and science and was drawn to genetics, statistics, and programming. I then tackled the difficult languages of Chinese and Russian. I reveled in being one of the only women in the room. I wondered why I so consistently chose a path where women were often absent. I realized that it was a way to challenge myself, and prove that I could excel beyond what might be expected.
In choosing a career that is more male-dominated, it is important to ask yourself why. What are the key drivers of your professional choices? Is it passion for the job, competitiveness, or just chance? The answer to this will help to define how you perform as a woman when surrounded by men. I am clearly in the competitiveness camp, and below are some valuable mechanisms that I learned along the way:
Continue to push yourself to do more
When you're one of the few women in the room, you better make sure you’re at the top of your game. You won't get much slack, it is easy to be ignored, and your ideas can be rapidly cast aside. So, the old adages of working harder, building a strong network, and speaking up really do matter. It has to be a conscious choice to raise your hand and be prepared, creative, and innovative. If your ideas are worthy and you deliver results, gender won't count in the end—either for or against you.
See also: 6 Ways Women Can Stand Out at Work
Keep an eye on your career goals
As a woman in a male-dominated field, you have to pay your dues. It is hard to know when to push hard to take the next step—to move up a level. You have to show your commitment and camaraderie, but never get complacent. It is important to stay focused on where you want to go, and chart your path to get there. This is the only way to progress and move along your career journey.
Remember there is no entitlement
Recently, there has been more attention focused on giving women a chance, and more pressure to open up opportunities in a gender-neutral way. Some women even feel that they deserve more than male colleagues, given the gender imbalance that has dominated senior ranks of industry. But really, women—and men—have to prove themselves worthy of the job. You must have the best expertise, right management, team-building skills, and vision for the job. There is no fast ticket to great possibilities—you have to earn it.
Having mentors within an organization, building a network, and being dedicated to continuously innovating are all keys to success as a woman in business. It helps to remind yourself that you have to take responsibility for managing your journey in a male-dominated profession—and that nothing comes easy.