Male-dominated professions and industries continue to reinforce harmful stereotypes. These typecasts create unfavorable environments that make it overly challenging for career-minded women to excel.

Often, women pursuing executive careers must apply double the effort as their male counterparts only to get half the credit. On top of that, the gender pay gap means earning less for doing the same work [1]. But why do male-dominated industries still exist, and what can you do to change it?

Stereotypes still exist in some modern work environments because the boy’s club metality and culture is still alive and well in some industries.Many men innately believe that female leaders are less capable, especially in STEM-focused and other highly analytical fields. Women in these industries have to work even harder to prove themselves.

The solution is for women to take better control of their destiny and stand out[2].

Who this Article Is For

This article is for career-minded women at all levels competing in a male-dominated workplace. It highlights gender disparity and offers ways to strengthen personal leadership skills.

But first, a brief look at the research-based differences between the sexes.

Why Gender Stereotypes Still Exist in the Workplace


No one can deny the psychological differences between the sexes. Men are known for suppressing emotions, while women tend to have better EQ skills. Men are also more aggressive and domineering. Whereas women often bond better with their peers and tend to have higher empathy. But focusing on the obvious gaps is unhelpful and why gender stereotypes exist.

The International Labor Organization published data in 2017 on workplace gender bias. It suggests that reducing gender disparities would significantly boost global GDP [3].

Gender Similarities & Differences Study

An Iowa State University (ISU) associate professor of psychology scrutinized gender similarities and differences. Zlatan Krizan and his team found that men and women are more alike than society portrays. His research combined over 100 meta-analyses of gender distinctions across 12 million people [4].

Breaking Barriers Report: A 2017 report found that unconscious gender bias continues to obstruct women’s career advancement in the United States[5].

More Alike than Different?

The report revealed an 80% overlap for at least 75% of psychological characteristics, regardless of age. That includes patience, occupational stress, risk-taking, and morality. Showcasing that male and female psychological attributes are more alike than different.

Shake off the Stereotypes

It’s time to shake off the stereotypes. Data shows that business leaders who rely on typecasts are less likely to realize their company’s full potential. The global Mercer report, ‘When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive,’ covers this in detail [6].

Male/Female Perception of Job Equality

A 2021 Gallup poll looked at gender perceptions for female equality in the workplace. Around 61% of men aged 18–49 believe women have equal job opportunities. For the over 50s, it’s 62%. But as the chart below shows, female views are less agreeable [7].

Perceptions of Equal Job Opportunities for Females (by Gender and Age)

EWF International Perceptions of Equal Job Opportunities for Females (by Gender and Age)

There’s no shortage of data and research-based advice for women working in male-dominated fields. And there’s no good reason they shouldn’t excel in their careers. The future of work and workplace culture is changing, and it starts with you.

Time to Fix the Broken Rung

There’s no doubt that women have equal talents to men for excelling in leadership roles. So why is it harder to progress up the chain of command than their male counterparts? Why do so few secure a flourishing career and a prosperous future? More often than not it’s the bottom rungs of the hierarchy ladder that’s the issue. Women only hold 38% of entry-level managerial posts to men’s 62%.

This chokepoint in entry-level promotions hold back the amount of women able to rise to more senior ranks. It’s a phenomenon known as the broken rung. And while it’s a larger societal issue in business, a woman can advocate for herself and embrace a new set of confidence skills to make it past the broken rung.

Below are 6 tips on how to excel in a male-dominated workplace.

6 Ways to Succeed in a Masculine Dominated Industry

How do you succeed in a male-dominated field? You don’t only need to survive but also thrive. Use the 6 proven tips below to lay your foundation for success.

  1. Focus on your positives
  2. Play to your strengths
  3. Embrace failure; crucial for making a career work
  4. Exploit the power of networks
  5. Seek male allies
  6. Earn the respect you deserve

Successful women working in male-led environments first focus on themselves rather than the culture. That means it’s an inside job, so nothing will change until you do.

#1 Focus on Your Positives—Be Mentally Fit

Attitude, outlook, and personal beliefs will either put you ahead in your career or hold you back. The trick here is to insist on positive thinking no matter what, even when you don’t feel too optimistic. Positive thoughts improve the way leaders think, feel physically and mentally, and function as individuals.
A fascinating study found six personality traits shared by successful females [8].

  1. Optimistic attitude
  2. Self-drive
  3. Self-development
  4. Helping others succeed
  5. Seeking new challenges
  6. Sincerity

Points 2–5 would be unlikely traits without point 1, the optimistic attitude. Working in a male-dominated environment can feel negative, even hostile. But if you change the way you perceive the work culture, the work culture changes.

Simple Foundation for Developing a Positive Mindset

There are many ways for female leaders to develop a more positive outlook. The tips below make an excellent foundation for changing how one perceives life at work.

  • Be mindful of what you say; use positive language
  • Make a conscious effort to reduce complaining
  • Be empathetic and kind towards others in the workplace
  • Acknowledge others for a job well done
  • Celebrate successes no matter how small
  • Create and make time for fun initiatives

Everyone has weaknesses and strengths, but it’s the latter that needs your focus.

#2 Play on Your Strengths

Many think that they must work on their weaknesses to build strengths. But a growing body of research shows it’s better to identify and focus on one’s strong points. Leaders who do that are happier, less stressed, healthier, and have more energy. They’re also more confident, creative, and engaged at work [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16].

#3 Embrace Failure 


Unlike men, who typically look to external reasons for failure, women often turn inward with failure when they don’t succeed. Examples could be not making a deadline or goal or being rejected for something. The fear of failure usually develops during childhood, but what’s important is that failure is not the end, it’s an opportunity in disguise.

Learn and Grow from Failure and Disappointments

All successful leaders and entrepreneurs learn from failure and use it as a tool for growth. The way to do this is to change the way you perceive failure. For that, zoom in and focus on what you are good at rather than your flaws. Soon, you will develop more of a growth mindset as you come to believe in your intelligence, talents, and abilities.

Recognize What’s Not Working and Dare to Change

If something isn’t working, dare to change it. Always reach out to others and ask for help when you most need support. Practice positive self-talk and use optimistic affirmations. Make a decision to stop worrying about what others may think of you. Finally, always question the worst-case scenario (it’s rarely as bad as you think).

No Change, No Growth

Are any or all the above challenges outside your comfort zone? If yes, you may have latent beliefs that your abilities restrict your potential to progress. This is known as a fixed mindset. To develop a growth mindset, you must step out of comfort zones and face fears head-on. It’s a proven method to move forward, grow, and flourish. 

Developing a growth mindset makes leaders smarter, more successful, and improves how they interact with others[18].

Professor Carol Dweck, Stanford University

#4 The Real Power of NetworkingThere’s strength in numbers. Anything is possible when women stick with winners, surrounding themselves with the right people. In this case, that means an influential network of individuals who share common interests and ideas. These are people who support you, not put you down, and that is an incredible confidence booster.

Networks are excellent for expanding knowledge, whether at face-to-face events or online interactions. Sharing personal experiences, strengths, and hopes and exchanging ideas help women advance their careers in male-dominated industries.

Networks outside of work matter, too. Surround yourself with family and friends, peers, and advisors whose presence makes you feel good about yourself.

Harvard Business Review: Those who embrace professional networks have more job opportunities, suggests research. They’re also more informed and develop greater status and authority[19].

Emerging Leaders Program by EWF International

EWF International’s curriculum-intensive Emerging Leaders Program helps supercharge business acumen for women at the early and mid-career phases. Our program participants learn how to make better-informed strategic decisions and strengthen overall leadership competencies that benefit personal growth and company performance.

#5 Seek Male Allies

Work cultures are not about men vs. women; it’s not an us or them scenario. Taking sides based on sex is a hindrance, not a help. A large portion of your male coworkers support gender parity in the workplace, and can be invaluable allies for career women.

Research suggests several benefits to having men in your network. It can result in less isolation, harassment, hostility, and more productivity in the workplace. Also, traditionally, male allies help retain quality career women in male-dominated fields [20].

#6 Earn the Respect You Deserve

Do you get the respect from others that you deserve? If not, you may be sending out the wrong signals. Or, you may be subconsciously telling yourself you don’t deserve it. Women leaders who get respected adhere to a few simple rules.

Rule one is to show others that you respect yourself. Positive body language also matters. The right nonverbal signals can alter the dynamics of workplace interactions. Women leaders gain respect when they stand up for their beliefs and set clear, enforceable boundaries. Lastly, never apologize when you’re not at fault.

  1. https://leanin.org/education/women-have-to-try-twice-as-hard-at-work/
  2. https://cdn-media.leanin.org/gender-stereotypes/
  3. https://www.ilo.org/closing-gender-gaps/
  4. https://psycnet.apa.org/gender-similarities-and-differences/
  5. https://www.ilo.org/breaking-barriers-report/
  6. https://www.imercer.com/products/when-women-thrive-global-report
  7. https://news.gallup.com/poll/gender-disparities-views/
  8. http://www.hrd.nida.ac.th/ study-of-Thai-female-executives/
  9. https://news.harvard.edu/optistic-women-live-longer-are-healthier/
  10. https://rewire.ie.edu/multiply-happiness-in-the-workplace-focus-on-strengths/
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/focus-on-strengths-leads-to-less-stress/
  12. https://www.academia.edu/character-strengths-lead-to-better-health/ 
  13. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/focus-on-strenghs-for-energy/
  14. https://files.eric.ed.gov/strenghs-for-self-confidence/
  15. https://www.researchgate.net/strenghs-make-you-more-creative/
  16. https://news.gallup.com/strengths-make-you-more-engaged/
  17. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/fear-failure-from-childhood/
  18. https://hbr.org/2016/05/learn-to-love-networking/
  19. https://www.youtube.com/professor-carol-dweck-leadership-growth-mindsets/
  20. https://journals.sagepub.com/male-allies-matter/