As a commercial real estate broker, I’ve often found myself as one of the only women in the room at any given time. In the beginning, it was just part of the job, an “it is what it is” mentality. However, today, I’m able to look back and recognize the grit it took to forge success for myself as a woman in a non-traditional career path.
In fact, there are a number of challenges facing women in the workplace including access to opportunities, the pay gap, and the “mom effect,” the struggle to juggle kids, parenting, and a full-time job, just to name a few. While these difficulties can be found in any workplace -- and are not exclusive to women -- they increase exponentially in male-dominated industries, defined as any field with 25 percent or fewer female employees.
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, there are a number of male-dominated fields (with at least 60 percent of male employees) with a projected growth rate of 18 percent and higher through the year 2024. The top five include ambulance drivers and attendants, personal finance advisors, web developers, EMTs and paramedics, and computer and information research scientists.
In commercial real estate, men comprise 58 percent of the professionals, 68 percent of mid-level managers, and 77 percent of senior executives (according to the 2013 Commercial Real Estate Diversity Report). Compare that to residential real estate, where 63 percent of all REALTORS® are female, according to the National Association of Realtors.
With that, I have compiled a list of lessons I’ve learned that are essential to succeed as a business woman in a male-dominated industry:
Know your value and own it. Communicate your and your team’s successes regularly to leadership. That way, when it’s time to ask for that raise or promotion, you’ll be loaded for bear. Also, assess how you compare to other top professionals within your industry and identify what skills and experiences you need to improve.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Really and truly, failure should be viewed as the opportunity to learn, grow, and push boundaries. The quicker you fail, the sooner you can learn from your mistakes. In fact, my father would always say, you learn more from what goes wrong than from what goes right.
Build your support network. Utilize all of the resources at your fingertips -- LinkedIn, professional groups, alumni groups, the PTA, and even friends and neighbors -- to find others in similar professions. Is there someone you consider your mentor? If not, find someone you want to be like, study what they’re doing to be successful, and let the relationship evolve organically.
Focus on things within your control. Your actions (and reactions) as well as your attitude are all factors that will contribute to your success. Also, be yourself. Don’t attempt to be anyone else but always strive to improve.
Find your voice. It’s been well-documented that in work situations, men often dominate the conversation. The answer is not to be louder or more aggressive, but to add value and new perspective to the conversation.
Trust your intuition. While it’s important to have all the facts necessary, remember that people drive success, not data. Trust your gut.
Be persistent but be patient. You will run into roadblocks along the way, and as mentioned before, use these moments as learning experiences. Try not to become discouraged when something does not turn out the way you anticipated, and keep moving forward. Growing your business takes time. Stay focused and enjoy the ride.
All of these tips could apply to both men and women alike and one day, gender equality will no longer be a topic of concern in the C-suite or in HR departments. But until that day arrives, we have the opportunity to create pathways to success for all genders by having conversations, supporting each other professionally, and identifying ways to improve.