Working in an industry dominated by men can leave women feeling as if they are on the outside, looking in, struggling to be heard at meetings, and excluded from opportunities or social events. Breaking into that ‘boys’ club’ can be a challenge but it is essential for women striving to reach positions of influence in a male-dominated business.
Despite our advancements in the fight for gender equality, women hold less than seven per cent of the CEO roles of Fortune 500 companies.
“In any kind of culture, if there is a dominant group, that culture will win out,” said Kathryn Heath, women’s leadership expert and founding partner at North Carolina, U.S.-based Flynn Heath Holt Leadership (FHHL). “It’s difficult for women to break the informal norms,” she added.
Heath believes that women should start by joining or setting up their own support group to share ideas with other women and avoid isolation.
In addition, having strong sponsors is vital for women to break into the boys’ club and get ahead in business.
“Women are over-mentored and under-sponsored,” said Heath. “Sponsors use political capital to advocate on your behalf. They will recommend you for jobs and task-forces and help you get key clients.”
Self-promotion is another area that women should focus on, according to Heath.
“Women are not great at talking about their accomplishments,” she said. “It’s important to take credit for your work and don’t underplay what you have done. Come forward with poise, confidence and power. Go into meetings, knowing what you are going to say, and be politically savvy,” she added.
Heath suggests that men in senior positions can help women progress by offering them opportunities, being sponsors and providing feedback. They can also ask questions about the hiring policies of a business to ensure there is no inadvertent bias against women.
FHHL is a consultancy and talent development firm that works to advance women’s careers to top levels. Heath is the co-author of two best-selling books: The Influence Effect: A New Path to Power for Women Leaders (Berrett-Koehler, 2017), and Break Your Own Rules: How to Change the Patterns of Thinking That Block Women’s Path to Power (Jossey-Bass, 2011).