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!