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 Carine Clark, president and CEO of MaritzCX.
When I graduated with my MBA in 1993, my father said, “I’m sorry that the world isn’t better for you and your sister. I thought by now you would have equal opportunity, equal pay and equal rights. Unfortunately, you’re still going to have to be better to be equal. Don’t be bugged.”
I took his advice to heart and decided that I would not be bugged. As my career path took me into the male-dominated tech industry, it turned out to be the best advice he could have given me.
When you are the only female in the room and someone assumes you are a support person rather than the CEO, don’t be bugged. If you are bugged, it gets in the way of you doing what you need to do to get the job done. If you are bugged, you will always have a cloudy lens and a chip on your shoulder. It’s that chip that stops you from moving past what is usually a temporary bump.
I still face it every day. Recently I was looking at a new building for my company and was accompanied by some of my male executives. The leasing agent asked me which of the men I worked for. When I told him I was the CEO, he said “Really?” and I laughed and said, “I know, right?” That diffused the situation and we went on to work out the deal.
Just keep in mind that most people are basically good; they are just responding to what they’ve known or have been exposed to. If they assume something because you are a woman, don’t get offended. Remember, it’s not what happens to you but how you respond to it that makes the difference.
If you are in a male-dominated profession, create your own space by focusing on skills that uniquely differentiate you. For me that was embracing the ever changing world of technology, being a student of entrepreneurs and learning from people who knew how to grow companies. Be smart and get the education you need to really understand the business.
In my world, at home and in the tech industry, I am always around dudes, from my husband and two sons to the men on my executive team. I enjoy the company of men but don’t try to be like them. Use your uniquely feminine side and humor to diffuse tense or uncomfortable situations. Be resilient and self-healing rather than thin skinned and overly sensitive. Don’t be afraid to challenge conventional perceptions, but try to do it in a controlled and thoughtful way.
By seeing the world as welcoming, you will increase your power and success in a male-dominated industry. Don’t be bugged, but instead work to change perceptions one person at a time.