How to start as a female in a male dominated industry

A woman starting out in an almost exclusively male environment may sometimes feel the need to impose herself and to be aggressive in order to avoid coming off as “weak”. We often hear “you must have quite a character to work in this sector!” That is the attitude I myself adopted when I first started, which I’ll describe and explain in further detail. This will also allow me to give you a few key elements on a successful entry into a new company (spoiler: don’t behave like me at 22).

I started at Schlumberger in the training center – we spend four months there, before going on the field. The formation allows you to learn about the job, but also serves as a method of selection, with only half of the applicants staying. Stress is at its paroxysm and we all look at each other wondering who will make it.

Being the only woman, I feel like I need not only to succeed, but to succeed brilliantly, to prove that the presence of a woman is not a mistake. In 1989, women only account for 1% of recruits. Thus, I have the impression that I am under a microscope, as a part of a laboratory experiment called: “What can a woman do in this role?” Failing would show that the trust invested in me was not deserved.

Added to this is a deep belief that a woman has to prove herself, show that she belongs here. Perhaps the vestige of a mother with the baccalaureate, working at a time where most women were full-time housewives? An unconscious bias that originates from our societal system? To be honest, I don’t really know, but it’s clearly a bias that resisted to the past decades and that I find in a lot of women today still.

Thus, during this training, I constantly have to do more. Except that these beliefs, this feeling of having to legitimize my place, aren’t without consequences.

I automatically consider every sign of attention towards me as a sign or paternalistic sexism. I bite every hand that comes my way. And quickly, it backlashes and hits me back in the face, in boomerang mode. My colleagues stop talking to me. They are tired of my constant anger and have better things to do tan to take care of an irascible woman/hungry lioness in a cage.

It’s a vicious circle. I’m very aggressive, the others answer hostilely, comforting me in the idea that I was right to be that way… Etc.

And then, one day, I start questioning myself. I realize that, although I’m always right (of course), the fact that everyone is against me shows that it might actually maybe, possibly be my fault… and that I need to change my behavior – especially since isolation is weighing me down.

In doing this analysis of conscience, I realized that I became very unpleasant to live with, so it’s not surprising that others hate my company.

After deciding to change mindsets, it became easier than I thought. How did the change occur exactly? First, I had to stop comparing myself to others. In the end, no one but myself had asked me to be the best. Secondly, instead of attacking every colleague offering help – to show that “no, sir, I can manage on my own! It’s not because I’m a woman that you should think I can’t do it!”, I kindly accept any good soul willing to help me. Thus, my colleagues quickly become friends, and I become a part of the group.

Being a woman in a male-dominated environment is hard enough, there’s no need to make things more complicated. Companies offer a job to a collaborator because they think he/she is the most qualified for the position. They usually don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart. Once the person has accepted the position, all that’s left is to work and excel at the job, as expected. But the person has nothing to prove, and just needs to focus on doing the job to the best of his or her ability. It’s by doing the job well that people show everyone that they are the right person for the mission. Thus, wanting to prove your worth as a woman, as I’ve done in the past, is completely counterproductive and unjustified. If she’s been offered the job, then she’s entirely legitimate.

Unfortunately, this trend isn’t dead yet. There’s still a long way to go before it disappears fully. Women still are (or feel) more tested than men. It’s important to resist and not get sucked into the game of colleagues, who have no right to judge our credibility and capacity to fulfill a position that company executives have trusted us with.

At 22, having the strength to question myself is what allowed me to continue and find my place and eventually end up where I am today. But for one person that finds a fit, how many give up? How many end up depressed?

Just like me, maybe their erratic behavior kept others away, without having the chance to fix things. Or a lack of confidence in their legitimacy got the best of them. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and remember that if you are in this seat, it is because qualified people believe that you belong there. An endless comparison won’t get you anywhere. Keep your head high and work with confidence and pride!

Where are the women in Computer Science?

At the women’s industry awards, a lot of the speeches revolved around the topic of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – the speakers said they wanted to recruit more women, but they did not find enough female candidates post-graduation.

If we look at the number of women graduating from French universities, all specialties combined, the figure is increasing, or at least not decreasing.

According to the IESF survey (INGÉNIEURS ET SCIENTIFIQUES DE FRANCE), the number of graduates increased from 4% in 1968 to 15% in 1985, and 28-29% since 2012. We have seen a feminisation in scientific studies, although we can wonder why this figure has been stagnant for about 5 years.

But my real question is: “Why is there a drop in the field of computer science? ”

“Computer science is the only area where, after having been proportionally well represented, the share of women has declined sharply, while in all scientific and technical fields it increased from 5% in 1972 to 26% in 2010”, writes Isabelle Collet, professor of education and research in the sciences of education at the University of Geneva, in “Le Monde”.

And we are not talking about any decline. We are talking about the number halving in 20 years. I remember in my engineering school, the IT section was highly feminized compared to us mechanics! This was 30 years ago. For example, INSA Rennes: 55% women in computer science in 1979; 50% in 1980 … 14% in 2001! They are more women in Civil Engineering and Urban Planning (25%)!

The famous representations of gender-oriented fields, which discourage girls at a very young age from studying science, do not explain this phenomenon. Otherwise, it would be a more general problem.

Some hypotheses exist, such as the one that suggests that computer science convey a masculine image – the infamous archetypical “Geek”, which could justify why women do not recognize themselves there. Another one claims that it was a discipline little known in the 70s, so it did not attract men.

Continuing my research, I found this article from 2014, « When did women stop coding? » which I found interesting. It may be only part of the explanation, but it’s certainly worth a look.

The pioneers in computer science were women. For a long time, the number of women studying computer science grew faster than that of men. In 1984, something changed. There was a plateau, then a sharp dive.

Researchers discovered that this coincided with the influx of personal computers in homes.

Now, like me, you be scratching your head and ask why this is!

The explanation that follows, while surprising, makes perfect sense.

These early personal computers weren’t much more than toys. And these toys were marketed almost entirely to men and boys.. This is when the clichés were formed. I remember well in my final year of highschool how boys were trying out programming of basic games. There were no girls doing this in their spare time.

Thus, in terms of computer science studies, there was now a gap between boys and girls. The boys had been initiated. With the leveling up, teachers assumed that the foundations were acquired, and directly approached the level “2”, leaving the girls on the side of the road.

Now, institutions are brimming with innovative ideas to turn the tide, but we also need to learn from our mistakes and understand the impact of these toys on girls and boys.

Note – I managed to write a whole article about women in IT without mentioning Ada Lovelace once …

Sources:National Public Radio – When women stopped coding

International woman – Does it mean being alone?

I am very proud to have won the International Women’s Prize and I thank the jury for the Women’s Industry Awards. I am honored to have been nominated alongside outstanding competitors.

Let’s talk a little about women abroad!

I’ve lived on 4 continents in countries that many would find difficult to locate on a map, and I still continue to travel very frequently for my work. I am fast approaching one hundred countries visited.

Thirty years ago, I left for Nigeria as a Field Engineer, alone. Alone on an offshore drilling rig amongst 80 men,  Alone at the operations base and one of three women working as engineers for the company in Africa.

I’m used to being alone though. I lived a similar experience at university, with only 5% females studying Mechanical Engineering.

The situation was very different in the city of Warri. I’m alone at work, but also in the “city” – without means of external communication, without the option to make international phone calls, and without female company. I had a lot of male friends, but I couldn’t talk to them about typical women’s issues. Being immersed in such an environment at age 22, with no way of chatting and “gossiping” with a woman from time to time was not always easy, but it certainly strengthened my character!

Twenty years ago, I went to Indonesia. There were many expat women, but I was one of the few working. I had to explain to my daughters why I could not pick them up after school like all the other mums. That also meant having to deal with occasional jealousy from women who had sacrificed their own careers to follow their husbands. My situation showed that there was a possible alternative. The 1998 Indonesian crisis was another solo experience for me, as I stayed to represent the company, along with a lot of men to deal with the turbulent situation!

Ten years ago, I went Angola. Now I am starting to see some women in the company, mostly young engineers. Schlumberger’s diversity policy is paying off. But I remain the only female in meetings of the Business Representatives with the Embassy.

When three years ago, working in Shanghai, I realize that I know about ten expatriate women whose husbands decided to follow them – it seems like about 10% of non-working partners (followers) are men. That’s when I start telling myself that things are really changing.

But the best proof of change occurred a few months ago. I was in a tiny, remotely located Zambian airport and I saw five or six expatriate women on their own who were clearly there to work. Not the daughter of …, nor wife of …! I was so moved to see this that I felt like going over to kiss them. Certainly, they would think I was crazy, but I was truly happy!

So yes, there is progress. The day when women’s mobility becomes obvious, we will have taken a big step with regards to unconscious bias towards gender equality.

Staying with the subject of recruitment, let’s take a closer look at wages.

When we talk about wage inequality, the argument that often comes up is “Are we really talking about equivalent experience for an equivalent position? Women may have slowed down their career or taken time off when their children were born, these choices had an impact which explains the different wage evolution even for an equivalent position… Etc.”

There may be some truth in these arguments, but I don’t intend to cover that here. At least not yet.

Logically, we should not find a salary difference when leaving school?

Let’s have a look…….

The latest wage study conducted by the engineers and scientists society of France (IESF) showed a difference of almost 2k euros in starting salaries when the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles (CGE), mentions a 1.7k euros difference.

So, how can this be explained ? Firstly, graduate female engineers study predominantly in fields such as water, sanitation, agribusiness, etc. where wages are on average lower than other sectors of industry. Also, according to CGE and IESF, about 10% fewer women get a permanent employment placement for their first job !

Other reasons to understand this phenomenon are :

  1. Women are poorer at negotiating …

This may have been true before, but not so much now. Young women negotiate much better than their predecessors. But has this resulted in improved results for women ?

A recent study by HBR in Australia, which surveyed 4,600 employees, showed that women negociate just as much as men, but have less satisfactory results.

Another thing that surprised me, this time in the USA, a survey of 2500 people, found that when a job announcement does not say that the salary is negotiable, men would be more likely to negotiate than women. On the other hand, when it is explicit that salary is negotiable, women do negotiate more than men.

  1. Unconscious bias

Unfortunately, this exists for both the employer and employee. Many women are still not comfortable with the idea of ​​earning more than their partner and would self-censor. On the side of the companies they anticipate that a woman will be less mobile, will require maternity leave and will eventually choose a better work-family balance, which could impact productivity.

In my case, I experienced at least 2 times salary discrimination on hiring. I did a thorough salary research  when applying for the position and refused to budge on my requirements. I got the job at the requested salary, but with a big delay. I found out afterwards that I was really asking for a lot, which explained why they had hesitated to hire me. Another engineer was hired at the same time as me, same age, same experience but less relevant for the position. From the beginning, I was given more strategic projects than him. Then I discovered some time later that he was paid more. Needless to say that I did not stay much longer with this company.

The identification of the unconscious bias makes it conscious! Let’s inform young engineers to be aware of it and consequenctly to prepare for it (partake in negotiation training, for example) and let’s make sure that companies have a policy of hiring young graduates impartially..

Debunking 8 Myths Surrounding Women And Work

I particularly like the second myth… “Men are promoted much more than women, but the research showed that there was no difference in promotions between women with children and women without children. This contradicts ideas that many women have had when trying to combine career and motherhood”

There are a lot of myths surrounding women and workplace success. Ideas such as women lack confidence or that they don’t have to right kinds of networks that lead to opportunities are often referenced in the media, but rarely questioned.

KPMG and the 30% Club recently studied the career paths and performance reviews of 681,000 employees at 109 organizations in the United Kingdom. They wanted to understand gender differences in career management at all levels.

There are more women in workforce, more women earning degrees and more female breadwinners than ever before. The study aimed to see what was enabling women’s success and what was holding them back.

In her recent Jam Session, Tessa Breslin talked about a few myths that surround women and career success and what the research showed about what’s really going on with women and work.


The study found that there are more similarities between men and women in terms of aspirations, ambitions and leaderships styles. The marginal differences that bubble up are the ones that lead to differences in career paths.

1. Women Don’t Aspire To Senior Leadership Roles

There is a lot of research into gender difference that suggests that women are not hardwired for power and are alienated by organizational politics. Against a backdrop of intense scrutiny of the few female leaders in the public eye, it’s easy to assume that women don’t want these roles.

Research fact:

Women’s career aspirations do not differ from men and their ambition grows as their professional experience grows. But women’s ambitions has a slow fuse. They define success more broadly, which makes their decision making about careers more complex. This can be seen as a “caveated” commitment to career progression.

The big breaking point for women is at the first supervisory or line management role. If you ask men and women at the beginnings of their careers if they want to be CEO, you’ll get very different answers. But if you ask them later, once they’ve had leadership roles, their answers are much more aligned.

Both men and women define what matters most to their success in similar ways. Usually this means having positive work relationships and doing something that is intrinsically interesting.

Women define success much more broadly. This makes their career decisions more complex, which may seem unambitious. But ambition grows as experience grows.

2. Child Rearing Stops Women From Making It To The Top

Much has been written about the impact of becoming a parent on women’s careers. For women, caregiving is thought to reduce their commitment to a career. For men, breadwinning is thought to redouble their commitment to a career. Choosing to “have it all” is usually framed in problematic terms for women. (Less so for men.)

Research Reality:

The overall career impact of having a family is less than what people believe. Having a family slows women’s career progression marginally but it’s not significant in preventing them from getting to the top.

Men are promoted much more than women, but the research showed that there was no difference in promotions between women with children and women without children. This contradicts ideas that many women have had when trying to combine career and motherhood. Research shows that it is gender, rather than parenthood, that is the career-defining factor. The group that is most likely to be promoted is actually men with children and the group least likely to be promoted is women without children, which is a bit of a surprise.

Women do talk about a perception of a loss of stamina in their jobs right when they start to have families. This may be largely due to the fact that, in the moment, they are much more sensitive about it. More senior women, however, often look at that time in their lives as more of a pit stop and many talk about the positive aspects of having a family and career. It helped them broaden perspective, personal efficiency and organization, helped them develop empathy and made them more determined to succeed.

3. Women Don’t Get To The Top Because They Lack Confidence

It is often cited that men will apply for a role knowing they only have 50% of the required skill set while a woman will wait until she has 100% of the needed skill set. Women’s reticence to “put themselves out there” is seen as lack of confidence which means they miss out on senior leadership roles.

Research Reality:

Risk alertness keeps women grounded in reality. Women are brutally honest about their skills and abilities when putting themselves forward to unfamiliar challenges.

Confidence is implicit in the concept of leadership. Corporate leaders need to be careful about the behaviors that they see as indicative of confidence. Women are risk alert and loss averse but not lacking confidence. Confidence is a complex concept that manifests itself differently in men and women.

4. Women Don’t Have The Networks That Open Doors At The Top

The ‘Old Boys Club’ is often cited as a source of social access and influence that helps men progress in their careers. Lack of access to traditional types of networking opportunities is frequently used to explain why women don’t appear on the shortlist for top jobs.

Research Reality:

Women absolutely understand the link between professional networking and career advancement. At work, they tend to choose formal channels to build their profiles and access support for professional development. These include sponsors, mentors and family. They also relied on former managers to nurture their potential at an early stage.

Men use informal contacts more readily to sustain their progress, such as colleagues, family and friends.

5. Formal, Flexible Working Arrangements Ease Women’s Route To The Top

Flexible working arrangements are what enable women to balance home and work commitments. Without flexible working, an even larger number of women will “leak” out of the talent pipeline.

Research Reality:

Informal, individual arrangements and agility are what women feel helps them most to succeed. Managers are essential in creating the right conditions for women to feel trusted.

Flexible working, though, was seen as a barrier to the top. Even if the option is there, the corporate culture may not be supportive of such decisions. But, if women are given the option to work autonomously, to get their work done, that was more beneficial and useful to them.

The downside of these informal arrangements between employees and direct managers is that they’re not known about by other people, particularly more junior women, who don’t understand how senior women are managing their work and life schedules.

6. The Business Case For Gender Diversity Is Working

The case for gender diversity is well established and tends to fall into two categories:

1. Demonstrating the business benefits of gender diversity

2. Putting forward the ethical argument for gender diversity.

Research Reality:

The personal case for gender diversity is a much more powerful lever when advocating for change, especially when the case is made by men.

The business case is not sufficient. It doesn’t touch people’s core motivation. Instead, it has to be visceral and emotionally development. Authentic storytelling is a much easier way to legitimately see change in an organization.

7. Women Don’t Stick It Out To Make It To The Very Top

What keeps people in a corporate career? It’s rarely simply to just have a family. There was no strong evidence that women were giving up on their careers more than men. Lack of promotion, rather than attrition, seems to be a larger reason why women aren’t getting to executive level roles.

8. Senior Women Pull Up The Ladder Behind Them

It’s a myth that women don’t want to work with other women or that they prefer to be a Queen Bee. Women tap into their network to help each other out and can be very generous with their time at networking events. They also like to mentor junior women.

The research showed that the only time that woman may not be helpful is when they are asked to be a sponsor of another woman. Many times they would pass the request over to a male colleague, because the woman felt he was better placed to open doors or the requester may get a lot more out of the relationship.