It may be assumed women in male-dominated fields like technology, engineering or oil and gas have an easy time competing for jobs. But, if you are among those women, you know that the career journey is rocky with many uphill climbs. Research shows male-dominated industries are particularly vulnerable to masculine stereotypes that make it even more difficult for women to excel.
We asked two female executives—Bobbi Dangerfield, vice president, IT Integration Office, Dell, Inc. and Laura Roach, senior vice president Marketing & Customer Success, OpenSymmetry—to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say.
What is your advice to other female executives currently in the job hunt?
Bobbi: First, play to your strengths. If you are good at listening, collaborating, having empathy—use them. Those skills are not easily found in many environments and, although they may be viewed as “typically female,” [they can be used] to your advantage. They are great leadership skills to have as your career progresses.
Second, take some risks. Be willing to take a role that no one wants and make something out of it. I once took a role teaching process management. Everyone said it was a dead-end job. I ended up working on IBM’s submission of the Malcolm Baldridge award, got huge visibility and received a great promotion.
Finally, make sure that you surround yourself with the best people who bring to the table the skills/capabilities that you don’t have.
Laura: Don’t sell yourself short, be confident, and know and leverage your strengths. This is advice I’d give any leader but, for some reason, it is not innate for all women. Whether you are a young student, professional or have been in your career for a while, it’s important for women to understand their abilities and how they can deliver success to their jobs/companies and to brand themselves within their organization as well as externally.
Look back on when you had the most joy and success and identify what you were doing and what type of team or individuals you were you working with so you can identify your ideal role. This becomes, in marketing terms, your ideal customer profile or, for you, your ideal job profile. It helps to clearly and confidently know what you want, and helps you identify your personal brand pitch (what you’re great at) and how you can benefit someone by being on their team or at their organization. Thus, it helps you sell your innate strengths and be confident. Match that up with the right team and organization and you will see how you can excel regardless of your gender.
How can female executives handle “work/life balance” issues?
Bobbi: Know who you are and what your life priorities are and stay true to them. Make sure you are taking care of yourself and staying true to your priorities/values. Having some sense of balance or harmony in your life is really important. Take your vacation, recharge. If you can’t be good to yourself, how can you be good to anyone else?
Laura: Over the years, I have found that trying to do it all between family, friends, work or “balancing” is never a good thing. There is only so much time in the day and only so much quality energy you can put towards anything effectively.
Early in my career, I tried to do it all: To be the super mom and super wife; serving on the PTA, taking on all the special projects, pulling all-nighters and weekends to deliver on projects, non-stop travel, you name it. I wasn’t at my top performance and began to resent all the things I used to love. Instead of trying to balance everything all the time, prioritize and share with your team (whether that team is your family or your colleagues).
Have you seen it get easier for women in your industry over the years?
Bobbi: I think women have many more resources available to them today. There is more of an awareness of diversity in the corporate environment and men are starting to join the conversation. That said, women still need to work harder than men to get to the same place.
Laura: I believe it is easier for women as there is awareness now, and so many female and male mentors who want to help promote strong leadership. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but at least the help is available.
Companies, shareholders and boards all see the bottom line of making sure they grow and support women leadership. It’s proven that a diversified board and executive team outperform competitors and have a larger earning per share versus organizations that do not. So not only is it something nice to have but there is real, profitable business value.
Share with us the challenges you have overcome in your own career. Do you have any questions for Bobbi Dangerfield or Laura Roach? Ask away—they are following and ready to respond!
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