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Seven Tips For Succeeding as a Woman in a Man’s World

Seven Tips For Succeeding as a Woman in a Man’s World

It’s difficult to pick up a salary survey or business magazine and not be reminded of the fact that, as women, we’re still paid less than men who are doing the same work, and we still represent a smaller percentage versus men in the board room and on the executive team.

“Globally, women earn only three-quarters as much as men—even with the same level of education, and in the same occupation,” says Christine Lagarde, the first woman to hold the position of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Christine goes on to say, “Women also tend to be locked out of leadership positions, where gender seems to matter more than ability. Women make up only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. They account for only 24 percent of senior management positions around the world.”

I spent the majority of my career working for manufacturing companies – a world historically dominated by men. I was fortunate to be promoted fairly quickly, earlier in my career, and often found myself to be the only woman in the room for many meetings. Though my education in accounting and finance was quite adequate for the technical parts of my job, I quickly learned that there was an unwritten set of rules and skills I needed to master if I was to survive in this male-dominated world.

Through the months and years to come, I read every book I could get my hands on, attended any training I could fit into my schedule and sought feedback from anyone who would give it to me related to how I could improve, better communicate, resolve conflict, gain consensus and grow.

I've compiled a list of seven things I learned to be essential to succeed as a woman in a man’s world.

[Related: 5 Ways Top Companies Are Closing The Gender Gap]

1. Focus on the things within your control – your actions and your attitude.

There may be times that you feel:

  • Discriminated against
  • Not heard
  • Not valued
  • Not treated fairly

Don’t waste your time pointing fingers or placing blame. You may, or may not, have an impact on what someone else is thinking, feeling or doing. You absolutely have a choice about the actions you take and the attitude you hold. Exercise your ability to constructively voice your opinion and stand firm in your convictions. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t sell yourself out. If you don’t have your ethics and integrity at the end of day, you don’t have much of anything.

2. Be authentic.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” It’s true. Always strive to improve but don’t waste your time attempting to be someone else. Take the time to truly understand your core values – what makes you tick – and honor those values in the choices you make and the way you conduct yourself.

3. Build a support network and use it.

It truly takes a village, and you are not alone. Many of the men I worked with had wives who managed the responsibilities related to their home life. As a single mom of two daughters, I did not have that luxury. Utilize the resources available to you, including LinkedIn groups, professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, Parent Teacher Associations, friends and neighbors. Find the common ground between you and others in your business, your family or your village. If I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to make the time to invest in relationships.

One piece of advice to my younger self - make the time to invest in relationships.
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[Related: How to Build Your Personal Advisory Board]

4. Believe in yourself.

If you don’t, who will? Don’t allow someone else to make you feel “less than.” Own your power. Create affirmations that you say and read daily to boost your confidence, remind you of your greatness and encourage you to do your best.

5. Find your voice.

Men often dominate the conversation. The solution to gain more airtime is not to become louder, more aggressive or belligerent. The solution is to find ways to add value, build relationships and create opportunities to speak outside of the meeting room. Then, enlist the support of a few trusted colleagues to bring you into the discussion. Also, be sure to communicate your career aspirations to your manager and those higher up. Men often get promoted over women simply because women don’t express their interest in being promoted or taking on more responsibility. Don’t wait for someone to ask you.

[Related: Finding Your Voice and Getting Noticed at Work]

6. Trust your intuition.

Men tend to be data driven and often ignore other aspects when making decisions. Gather the data, and then trust your gut. People drive success – data doesn’t.

7. Know your value and own it.

Do your homework on this. Again, don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Pull information from career guides and professional associations. Refer to your job description and performance reviews. Determine how you rate as compared to top performers in your company or profession. If you need additional skills or expertise, put plans in place to attain them. Meet with your manager and discuss next steps to be promoted or otherwise recognized – and rewarded - for your current performance.

As women, we have the ability, the desire and the potential to contribute more and to make a real difference in the world. Remember, it begins and ends with you. You hold the power. Choose you, and invest in yourself. You won’t be disappointed.


Susan Edwards CMA, CPA, is a business coach, career coach and professional speaker. After spending 25 years in various leadership roles, she founded Enlighten Management Consulting, Inc. where she coaches and consults with manufacturing companies, small businesses and career minded professionals. Click here to download her free exercise to determine your core values and create your Core Value Statement. You can follow Susan on Twitter @CoachSusanE. 

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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Mary Ann Higgs

Susan, you make some valid points. Many years ago, I read the book, Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman by Gail Evans, the first female VP at CNN. It's an older book but many of the messages still apply. There are some things we as women do that hinder our success. Gail captured a number of them in her book.

January 4, 2019

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