5 Female Leaders on How to Get Ahead in Male-Dominated Industries

It’s been more than a century since women began making strides in the workforce, eschewing clerical or domestic positions and venturing into traditionally male-held professions like law, business and medicine. While the movement to close the gender gap has seen its share of progress, some labor forces remain underrepresented, with the continued existence of boys’ clubs in industries from construction to sales. Undeterred, undaunted and unflinching, five female leaders spoke with FN to discuss how they managed to get ahead in their careers. Here, their best advice to help pave the way for the new generation of female leaders.

Robin Quivers, Co-Host of “The Howard Stern Radio Show” | TV & Radio

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated workplace?

“I came through the military before I ever entered radio, so I guess I had a training ground. I was an officer, so I had men who had to listen to me, and I had superiors but worked with them in a professional manner. When I eventually came into radio, I was already used to the sort of things that go on and how to be heard.”

Did you ever feel like you had to act differently to get ahead?

“I couldn’t do that. (Laughs) I never considered myself as being embattled. If somebody said something to me that I didn’t like, I told them. That was just the way it went. I let the chips fall where they may, and I think people respected that rather than cowering in a corner somewhere.”

Is there an anecdote you’d like to share?

“I can tell you a great story. One day, I walked up to our office, and it was mostly women in the newsroom. They were all abuzz about something, so I said, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘Have you seen what this engineer has at his desk?’ And it was some kind of a girlie calendar that he had hung up in the newsroom. I said, ‘This is what’s bothering you?’ They said yes. So I took it off the wall, tore it up and threw it away. ‘Now you can go back to work.'”

Tell us about your experience with breast cancer and how that’s made you a stronger person.

“I think it’s made me value life more than anything. You take it for granted when you’re young and you’re healthy, and you go through life as if nothing bothers you. When something like this happens, you realize that you’re human and you’re vulnerable and you need other people, so it broadens your perspective and makes you enjoy every day.”

Name one of the most influential women in your life.

“When I got into radio, I really didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t have my own voice, so I thought, ‘I’ll just be Barbara Walters,’ because she was doing everything. She had the greatest broadcasting career; she was breaking ground and doing things that women had never done before — and bouncing back when things went wrong. I just thought I’d be Barbara Walters until I found my own voice.”

Griselda Ramirez, Content Associate Producer at ESPN | Sports Media

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated workplace?

“Being a woman in a male-dominated place like ESPN does not intimidate me. I’ve always been the girl who got along with boys; I played sports growing up. Playing sports built my confidence and helped me carry myself in a way which assured me that I was as competent as my male peers in any task at work.”

What are some things you don’t leave home without?

“I don’t leave home without my moleskin notebook, pen, headphones, cell phone charger, unbroken cosmetics ‘Cosmo’-colored matte lipstick and a miniature to-go bottle of Tajin [chili-lime seasoning]. Oh, one more thing: my external hard drive.”

What’s your mantra?

“My mantra is, if it scares you, do it if there’s an opportunity to grow and learn something new. If there’s a calculated risk that needs to be taken to improve personal and professional growth, go for it.”

What’s the best advice you’ve received that’s relevant to your career now?

“A wise friend and mentor, Jose Lopez, once told me: 1) Do your job and do it well. You can never be faulted for that. 2) No matter how tough situations get at work, you are learning valuable lessons. Someday everything will make sense.”

Is there something you did to get ahead that people wouldn’t believe?

“When I was just starting my journalism career, I often co-hosted and reported for a sports show with no pay for an entire year while working a full-time job as an education/breaking-news reporter at a local newspaper. In order to learn the craft of broadcast journalism [shifting from newspaper to television], the invaluable compensation I received from the experience outweighed the absence of pay.”

Amanda Wurtz, CEO | Finance

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated workplace?

“I’m oftentimes one of the only women in the room, and in many cases, the women who are in that room were hired by me — younger millennial women who I thought were talented and should be mentored by another woman. I’m always looking to promote other women.”

Is there anything you wish you would’ve done differently?

“After I had my last child, I went back to work in two and a half weeks. I did it because I felt like my role was such a coveted, important and protected one, and I was so privileged to have it that I feared losing it if I took some healthy time off with my child. That was self-imposed but also dependent on the environment I was in, and I think that was a mistake. You have to take care of yourself. Unfortunately, they don’t work together — where you can take care of yourself entirely and really crush it at work. It’s a give or take, and usually it’s the time with your kids that goes because you figure you’ll get it back, but that’s not always the case.”

What’s a good piece of advice you’ve received in the course of your career?

“I met another female CEO recently — she’s brilliant, incredibly accomplished, but also a kind, congenial person — and she told me, ‘It’s really depressing to hear this, but let me remind you: These people are your colleagues, and you should listen, care for and bolster them, but they’re not your friends.’ Of course, it’d be great if you worked in an environment where people are friendly, but this is business. I think I spent so much time thinking about making people happy and trying to become friends with everyone, but I would’ve been better distancing myself. I wish I knew how to play the game better; I wish I was a tougher businesswoman. Business is business. My biggest mistake was taking care of others when I should’ve been focused on myself a little bit more.”

Any tips you would share with women looking to get into the same industry?

“Get tougher, and don’t let things get so personal. Be less focused on making everybody happy because you’re not going to be able to please everybody. It’s a cutthroat industry, but you should never be competitive at someone else’s expense. You’re gonna get there in the end, so you should take the extra time needed. If you need to take time off, do it. It’s like the opposite of ‘lean in’ — more like ‘lean back’ a bit. Don’t fall off your chair, but nurture yourself, your family and your friends as well as your career.”

Finish the sentence: I wish more women would ____.

“I wish more women would understand other women’s unique perspectives and places in life. I wish older women would understand women in my generation and that the millennials would be more empathetic toward those with kids, and that those with kids would be empathetic toward those who are up and coming. As hard as it is, try — even with the most competitive of spirits — to understand where other people are coming from. The old line is that there’s only room for one, but I don’t believe that. Men always promote their friends — their lacrosse pals, their buddies from college, their wives’ cousins — with the hope that they’ll live up to their potential, but women are so hard on each other to ensure that they’re putting people who are already deserving into those positions.”

Tricia Lall, Director of Sales at Lampix | Tech Sales

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated workplace?

“Women are expected to be more fierce and competitive if they want to advance. As a mother, it’s twice as much effort to prove your value without hearing, ‘How will you be able to meet a deadline or travel requirement as a full-time mom?’ Men are much more quick to receive praise and recognition than a woman accomplishing the same tasks. It’s even more challenging because in tech sales, I have very often found that customers are more inclined to have a strategic conversation with a male counterpart and have even often completely spoken over me or [redirected] the question to the male in the conversation. As a woman, I’ve learned to walk into a consultation or negotiation armed to take the lead and maintain the direction of the conversation if I want to be taken seriously.”

What are some things you don’t leave home without?

“My cell, business cards and lip gloss. I’m always prepared for last-minute customer meetings.”

What’s your mantra?

“I firmly believe one must always dress for success — mentally and physically. Think like your customer if you want to understand their needs, and meet them where they are comfortable. Always give professional courtesy, honesty, respect and integrity. If you don’t have rapport with your customers, you will never maintain their loyalty.”

What’s the best advice you’ve received that’s relevant to your career now?

“Persistence. Always stay true to your values and persist without being arrogant. Always underpromise and overdeliver.”

Is there anything you would’ve done differently in your career?

“My biggest challenge in my career path is knowing how to push forward without compromising my values rather than walking away. In the past, I have walked away from positions I truly loved because I didn’t have the courage to speak up. It is one thing I have begun to do differently, but I do wish I would have done it earlier in my career.”

Jeanne Park, Ironworker in Local 377 | San Francisco Construction

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated workplace?

“I’ve been a union ironworker since 1995. The numbers of women in my trade have maybe increased slightly through the decades but still remain below about 3 percent. Part of these low numbers has to do with societal expectations of such a macho trade; this is the industry pictured climbing steel columns and sitting having lunch above the skyline in iconic pictures on beams casually having lunch. Society at large considers this job to be the epitome of manliness, combining feats of strength and daring, so when a woman appears and is competent in this role, it seems to hurt a lot of men’s feelings. Women have been breaking into the union construction fields because they do provide paychecks that equal that of men in the same field as well as benefits such as health care and retirement.”

What kinds of challenges did you face?

“My path through the ironworkers has never been easy. There were so many days as an apprentice that I would hurt so much from swinging a six-pound sledgehammer all day or carrying and placing angles or handrails from one unfinished floor to the next that I wanted to hide in the port-a-john — so gross — and cry. And that was besides the weird comments and attention I would get from men trying to get a reaction out of me or deliberately trying to drive me out of work.”

How are women in construction faring now?

“One of the things the ironworkers have been working hard on is networking the women across North America. Even though there might be local unions that span several states and have maybe a handful of women, it’s easy now to connect those women through social media to talk about the issues they might have on the job sites. The most newsworthy is the implementation of our new pregnancy leave policy, which is a first in all the construction unions.”

If you could walk in anyone’s shoes, whose would they be?

“I’m pretty comfortable in my own shoes. I just wish they were actually more reliably actually comfortable. Finding the right workboots with ankle support, safety toe and crepe wedge sole (to avoid catching on a heel when walking at heights) in a woman’s fit is a chore.”

Do you have any advice for your younger self?

“I wish I could tell myself to be braver and be able to find the mentor for myself that I try to be for other women coming through. We women are still pioneers, but we are drawing attention to the fact that we are succeeding at what we do, and we are making the work safer with better conditions for everyone.”

Access exclusive content