If you’re a woman entrepreneur, you’ve probably received mixed messages throughout your career. Some people tell you — and most people believe — that women have all the skills and opportunities they need to succeed in business. Others, on the other hand, prefer to focus on the barriers and challenges women face in today’s professional environment.
I’ve spent most of my career in two different male-dominated industries: entertainment and tech. My roles have ranged from being a talent producer for awards shows to taking on record label exec duties to driving the music and entertainment market for Apple. There have been challenges along the way, of course, but being a woman has never held me back.
If you’re launching a business or working in a male-dominated industry, your gender doesn’t have to hold you back, either. Here are some key skills and traits I’ve learned throughout my career that may also help yours:
1. Be comfortable working with both genders. Throughout my many years of working in male-dominated industries, I’ve learned that the best way to avoid common barriers and challenges is to become “gender-blind.” If you do great work in your zone of genius and focus on delivering great value, gender issues will typically evaporate.
To cultivate that comfort level, don’t overthink your own actions in the workplace. Too often, women try to act like men in the company of men, but it’s better to focus on bringing your own unique strengths — both in your personality and your talents — to the table. Women tend to be better at seeing opportunities, paying attention to detail, and fostering diplomacy, which are all vital skills in today’s workplace.
2. Honor your own true voice. Trust your intuition, and be confident in all your business dealings. Don’t hold back from putting yourself and your own fresh ideas out there, and be prepared to back up your opinions. If there’s pushback, encourage people to try your approach for a set duration. Maybe you’ll fail, but if you don’t take risks and speak up for yourself with conviction, you’ll get in your own way and slow your progress.
I’m often the only woman in the room during professional gatherings — a scenario that’s easy to be intimidated by. But I’ve found that when I speak up and contribute in a meaningful way, I’m respected by everyone in the room, regardless of gender.
Finding your voice isn’t as difficult as it sounds, but it does take some focus. Ideally, surround yourself with members of your tribe. Then, challenge yourself to express your views in multiple ways, and share your personal stories and experiences to build your credibility. Once you find your voice, embrace it — don’t hold back.
3. Surround yourself with great people. See yourself as a leader, and make sure you surround yourself with a diverse group of positive people who are results- and solutions-oriented. These individuals should complement your strengths, shore up your weaknesses, provide fresh insights, and help keep you grounded along the way.
One person you need in your arsenal is a great coach. Identify someone you admire who’s a few steps further along the journey than you are, and cultivate a mentoring relationship with that person. He or she will accelerate your professional growth and your perspective to levels you possibly couldn’t reach on your own.
I’ve had three powerful coaches in my career, and they’ve all been men. That wasn’t strategic on my part, at least not with respect to gender. I simply chose the people around me I most admired who embodied the traits I wanted to learn. I’ve also worked with amazing women who have been vital to my career and success.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I know one of the best things you can do is get over it. At the end of the day, partnerships and success really come down to respect, diligence, and great work; they have nothing to do with gender.
If you embrace these principles, you’ll catapult your career to the next level.