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 can women be taken seriously in a room full of men?” is written by Jan Plutzer, COO at Apcera.
“I don’t think that you should work anymore. I think you should focus on being a mom.”
A male superior once delivered this “advice” to me in front of my male peers. At the time, I was a mom of two young children, balancing the growing demands of work and family. For a moment, those words tugged at my heartstrings and made me second-guess myself—but only for a moment.
When I share this story with my current and former colleagues, the most common reaction is laughter—no one is surprised. Women who have worked long enough in a male-dominated field have most likely encountered similar—or worse—“advice.”
Being the only woman in the room can be uncomfortable and intimidating. However, in time, with resolve and hard work, your track record of accomplishments becomes your mark, and the only stigma fades.
Here’s my advice for those in the only club:
Learn from men, but do not fall for the advice to act like one. Throughout my 25-year career in technology, the most frequent advice I have received is to “act like a man.” What does this even mean? At best, it means to mimic the behavior of successful men. At worst, it means to accept the boy’s club mentality.
Needless to say, I don’t take this advice—I wouldn’t even know how to. As a leader, it’s important to stay true to your instincts. Good leaders are honest about who they are, and they embrace the things that make them unique.
To thrive in a male-dominated executive environment, competence and hard work are essential, but insufficient. It’s not just how capable and smart you are, but also how good you are at owning your position and standing firm in your knowledge.
Display confidence and believe in yourself at all times. When you believe in yourself, others do, too.
The greatest leaders I know are all optimistic. They are able to lead a team and to power through adversities. They possess an infectious enthusiasm that inspires success.
Adopting an optimistic approach hasn’t always been easy for me. I‘m usually known as the “voice of reason.” I’m practical. I hold firm to my no-nonsense-no-excuses, get-stuff-done ways.
I began however, observing my peers who had mastered the art of stating things positively and confidently. I admired that strength and “can-do” attitude. With careful observation and lots of practice, I’ve learned that I can hold firm to my logical core, but also adopt a more optimistic way of leading.
As a female executive, I believe in making diversity a priority, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because businesses thrive when there is diversity of thought. If you find that you’re the only woman in the room, take steps toward effecting change, so that instead of being the only, you are actually the first.
Remember that you are paving the way for others to succeed. It’s not easy being the only or the first at anything. But it can be rewarding, especially when you see other women follow in your footsteps and benefit from your strong leadership and advocacy.