Being one of very few women (or the only woman) in any male–dominated space—from classrooms to conference rooms—can be quite intimidating. I first felt this sense of separation in my high school Advanced Placement Physics class, which was composed of primarily men. As a woman pursuing STEM courses in college, I often encounter this gender gap in my classes. In fact, research has shown that fewer and fewer women are pursuing careers in STEM. This gap begins in college, where many women feel intimidated by male–dominated classrooms and workspaces, and choose to instead go down other career paths.
In addition to jobs in STEM, many other jobs foster male–dominated spaces—for example, the finance industry. Learning in an environment where women’s voices and opinions are often disregarded is detrimental to one’s growth and self–confidence. In this article, I’ll outline some ways to help you feel empowered in any male–dominated space or industry.
- Be Kind to Yourself. Be Proud of Yourself.
While being one of few women in a male–dominated space can feel intimidating and excluding, do not forget why you’re there in the first place! It’s vital to remember that you’re smart and capable of all that you put your mind to, and that’s exactly why you ended up in this STEM class or competitive job.
Speak to yourself with kindness. Even though it can be difficult when you feel like you can’t get a word in the conversation (probably due to mansplaining…), never forget that your ideas are valuable and worthy.
- Know Your Worth—and Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Voice
It can be so discouraging when you feel like your ideas and contributions are consistently being overlooked by others. Daily affirmations, when you’re able to remind yourself of your worth and purpose, will do amazing things to your self–confidence. Never lose sight of the power your voice and opinion have. Regardless of if you disagree or agree with something, make yourself known!
This tip is especially important if an action makes you or someone else uncomfortable. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, one in four women experience sexual assault or discrimination in the workplace, and many fail to report it. Do not wait to report instances that made you uncomfortable for fear of appearing “dramatic.” If an action makes you uncomfortable, it needs to be stopped! Click here for more information about what you should do if you believe you have been harassed at work.
- Celebrate Your Successes
Imposter syndrome is real. I’ve felt it at my university, and still continue to feel like I don’t belong in some spaces where everyone I meet is so highly accomplished. The best way to combat this syndrome is to celebrate every one of your achievements—no matter how small. This may mean celebrating a high score on a test you studied hard for or simply congratulating yourself for speaking up in a class you don’t often talk in. The key here is to build yourself up and to be proud of yourself for every breakthrough you make.
- Support Other Women
One of the most impactful ways to feel empowered in any area of life is through friendships. Especially in male–dominated spaces, friendships will help you build a sense of community and may help you realize that you’re not alone after all. If you’re struggling, confiding in other women is a great way to build a supportive network.
Additionally, it is so important to celebrate each other’s successes—especially if they’ve been overlooked. Building each other up helps foster a sense of inclusion and equality. This may be as small of an action as congratulating someone for a job well done on a presentation.
It’s normal to feel frustrated when learning or working in a space where you don’t always feel included or heard, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t belong there! Although it’s not great to feel discouraged and excluded sometimes, the feelings of success, achievement, and excitement certainly outweigh the hardships you may face in any male–dominated space.