The challenges of being female in a male-dominated field
Do you remember this old riddle? A father and son get into a car accident. When the son is brought to the hospital with injuries, the doctor says, “I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son.” Who’s the doctor?
The answer: the boy’s mother.
Hopefully, that riddle seems ridiculously outdated now. We’ve come a long way, baby, right? But it wasn’t that long ago when both men and women alike couldn’t take the mental leap that a woman could be a surgeon.
As a woman working in a male-dominated field, this riddle comes back to me every so often. I can’t tell you how many times people were surprised to discover that I am the President and CEO of VoDa. Just recently, I was on the phone with a long-time customer. During the conversation, I assured him, “You have the owner of the company here. If I’m telling you it’s going to happen, you have my word it’s going to happen.” He replied, “You’re the owner?”
We broke through the glass ceiling…now what?
Women have broken through almost every imaginable glass ceiling, in every field. And yet that surprise people exhibit when they find out a woman is in a position of leadership still shocks me. It reminds me that the business world is still a rough terrain for women to navigate, especially in technology-driven industries. It’s often an uphill battle to be recognized as knowledgeable, formidable, someone who belongs, who earned that seat at the table. When I’m met with resistance, I think to myself, “Go ahead, underestimate me, that’ll be fun!”
But the fact remains that women make up only 28% of the workforce in STEM. And this gender gap only gets wider in some of the fastest-growing, highest-paid jobs, such as computer science and engineering. Women undoubtedly face greater challenges in these fields. Some challenges are so insurmountable, women are eventually pushed out. In fact, an article on NBC news stated that 91% of women who work in STEM see gender discrimination as a career obstacle, and “and a shocking 100 percent of respondents agreed that self-doubt and a lack of confidence stand in their way.”
We still have our work cut out for us
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the gender gap and bias changing in both little steps and big strides. In tech industries, we are finally seeing big changes as more and more young women are earning STEM degrees and landing leadership positions once only held by men. The gender gap is shrinking before my eyes, but we still have some work to do to truly level the playing field.
At VoDa, I am 100% dedicated to customer service and satisfaction. This same level of passion applies to making male-dominated fields more welcoming for women. As the CEO of my own certified woman-owned business, I believe it’s both a privilege and a responsibility to use my platform to empower other women. A rising tide lifts all boats: when other women succeed, we all succeed.
This past Spring, I was invited to speak as a panelist amongst other female entrepreneurs at Molloy College, where I could share my experiences working in male-dominated fields, from working on Wall Street during the eighties to transitioning into the male-dominated telecom field. I have also been invited to attend meetings with the WPO (Women’s Presidents’ Organization), which was “formed to improve business conditions for women entrepreneurs, and to promote the acceptance and advancement of women entrepreneurs in all industries.” Wherever there is a panel, a board, or an organization where my voice is welcomed, I will be there to help uplift other women in business. Why? Because to succeed in these male-dominated fields, we need more mentors and role models. We have to help each other. But here are some things you can do right now for yourself: Speak up and take credit for your work. Find a strong peer network and learn how to advocate for each other. Know your self-worth. And most importantly, remember to bring your authentic, confident self to work every day. We need your voice at this table.