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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

Overcoming Challenges Working in Male-Dominated Field

05 Nov 2013 8:14 PM | Anonymous

By Joan Runnheim Olson

Tanya Parades, who has worked in male-dominated careers most of her life, shares her strategies to overcome any challenges she has faced. I have several "strategies" that have now become second nature when working around men...

1) Earn their respect and show them respect: I have to be better at my job than the average male in the same position. I must temper any emotional outbursts (definitely never cry especially in frustration…oddly, throwing things is more acceptable). It's okay for the guys to swear loud, but I keep mine under my breath (unless it physical pain so they understand why I am not working for the next five minutes, plus having them see the blood helps). I have to take the view that I am an ambassador in a foreign world....so I must be a shining example of my species.   

2) I must not do things that make them think I am saying I am better than them (i.e., my level of education, my financial or family background, neighborhood I grew up in etc.). I will answer if asked these things but usually in a short, "Oh, I went to Wilson High School.” [End of subject].

3) I try to listen attentively and actively. I make noises as I listen, saying yes or I agree...and try not to ask too many questions. I think they see my questioning them as their being bad at explaining things. If I understand less than about 60% of what they are saying or explaining I may temper a question with a phrase such as "Ok, I can't keep this straight in my brain. We do what after _______?" This leaves the problem of not understanding on me and not because of them. If I understand 60% or more, I will practice on my own when no one is looking which is what they expect you to do.

4) Things like "men don't read instructions"... seriously they view it as a sign of weakness or lack of job knowledge. They would rather tinker with stuff for 20 minutes than read the instructions and get it done in five minutes. In fact, I was literally laughed at when I admitted I read the instructions on how to install a new style of faucet. Logically you would assume that the warranty is only valid if the faucet is installed correctly, but that thought never crossed their minds.

5) Finesse and neatness do not count: Most men just want to get the job done. They don't think about or really care about how the homeowner/contractor might react to a large hole in the wall or some spilled water on the floor. Again as women for some reason we often tend to think how our actions or inactions will affect others and we seem to be able to put ourselves in other people’s places better. This is one reason women are wanted in service work and finish work.

6) What you do not ask is, "Why do I 'have to' do all this?" and this is something females may know intuitively but not vocalize. Men are extremely competitive.... especially in a one-on-one basis. They are constantly one upping each other, relating in ways I would never dream of. They are often like little brothers or something arguing.

7) And when men disagree they will tend to talk over you (not give you your say in the subject) they will say their piece and if you try to counter their opinion they will raise their voice slightly and tell you again what (they believe) is the truth, and say it again and again until you stop trying to say your opinion.   So sometimes you just have to shut up and nod ... believe what you want in your own head.

8) As for lifting things you just have to experiment... I often have to use levers, pry bars, extra tools or whatever I can find that helps me.

9) I have experienced culture related gender bias from Hispanic workers from out of state who have no idea of the training involved to get a plumbing license in this state. I have also experienced it from contractors who think women should be at home. In those instances my foreman was good enough to step in for me or dispatch was smart enough never to send me to that contractor's jobsites again.

10) I personally never talk about my private life except for the very basics like, "I need to go grocery shopping so I have snacks for lunch."  

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