Navigating the political landscape of a predominantly male firm is no mean feat. For many women, this setting can magnify their insecurities and even cause imposter syndrome. So how do you succeed in a male-dominated environment?
Throughout this article, we will discuss how to thrive in a male-dominated space by leveraging your unique perspective and unpacking any gender biases.
Some people believe the answer to the question, ‘how do you succeed in a male-dominated environment?’ is to try and fit in. But this simply isn’t true!
Whilst it can be tempting to adapt parts of your personality to fit in with your colleagues, it’s far better to be your authentic self. Why? Because when you aren’t preoccupied with creating a false image for yourself, you’re more approachable, productive and successful. So don’t view your differences as weaknesses to cover up! Acknowledge them for what they are – your greatest strengths.
However, if you feel your differences put you at a disadvantage, you may want to reconsider your commitment to the company. Start by asking yourself:
- Do my values align with the firm’s values?
- Is this environment going to help me excel?
- Or is it going to hinder my performance and make me unhappy?
If you believe you are a right fit for the firm, but you’re concerned your differences will prevent you from making partner, you must speak to your manager. They will work with you to unpack any false narratives and unwarranted insecurities.
Alternatively, if don’t feel comfortable with the company culture, you may want to cut your losses and look for work elsewhere. After all, you can’t flourish under the wrong conditions.
2. Find an internal mentor
An internal mentor is an invaluable asset. With first-hand experience working within your firm, they can help you navigate the political landscape, identify key players and opportunities and unpack the question, ‘how do you succeed in a male-dominated environment?’
So, if you haven’t got one already, try to find a mentor within your firm! Their advocacy (and influence within your firm) could connect you with career-enhancing opportunities, assignments or secondments.
3. Distinguish fact from fiction
Often, when women ask us, ‘how do you succeed in a male-dominated environment?‘ they really want advice about navigating gender biases. However, before we discuss how to address gender biases, we need to identify what is fact and what is fiction. (After all, you can’t throw around allegations unless you have sufficient evidence.)
Firstly, you need to address why you believe there is a gender bias at your firm. For example, is it because your company hasn’t promoted a female in over three years? Is it because other employees have said so? Or have you experienced it first-hand?
Secondly, you want to consider the contrary. For example, is it possible that the women who applied for these promotions weren’t the best candidates for the position? Or perhaps they didn’t put themselves forward in the first place? Remember, not everyone wants a promotion. So don’t immediately assume the worst.
Finally, you want to find concrete evidence to support or deny your belief. Now, this can be tricky because, often, when we internalise a belief, we undergo confirmation bias. So you must be diligent when distinguishing fact from fiction. Try to change your perspective and separate your perception from the physical evidence. Otherwise, you could seriously damage your career.
If you’ve taken all our previous suggestions on board and still believe there is an underlying issue, you need to address it with the head of your department.
Now, you can approach this conversation in a couple of different ways. Firstly, you can mention that you’ve noticed your firm doesn’t have a female partner or that no women were promoted this year. And because of that, you’ve convinced yourself you can’t progress any further. Alternatively, you can identify the differences between yourself and your firm’s partners and ask whether there’s a gap you need to address in your skillset.
The important thing to note is that both of these approaches focus on your perception and how you feel. Why is that important? Because to have a constructive conversation, you can’t go pointing the finger, claiming your company refuses to promote women. Instead, you need to express yourself calmly and coherently.
So, enter the conversation with an open mind. Ask lots of questions and express your enthusiasm. You may just receive the advice you need to advance your career.
The key to thriving (in any work environment) is to find a firm that challenges you, values your unique perspective and supports your career progression. Now, that isn’t to say that once you’ve found that firm, everything will be easy breezy. But, if you seek advice from your superiors and communicate your concerns (gender-related or otherwise), you should have no trouble thriving in a male-dominated environment.
We created the Progress to Partner subscriber-only site to make it as easy as possible to build your partner-ready skills.. There are guides, self-study courses, useful videos, workbooks waiting for you – everything you need to know about how to make partner all in one place! There is a great Game Plan of resources to work though called “…if you need to raise your profile” to help you get noticed inside and outside your firm (for the right reasons).
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