July 17, 2007 By Liza Lowery Massey
The words on MSN.com glared, "Fewer jobs are dominated by men or women," but look a little deeper and you still find that four out of five top paying "male-dominated" jobs are IT related, with females making up a measly 9 percent to 24 percent of the work force for those professions, according to Rachel Zupek of CareerBuilder.com, who wrote the article, The Gender Wars at Work, in June. The good news: The profession of IT project manager, also considered a top-paying job, makes the list of those not dominated by either gender. Another piece of good news - according to the same article, the pay gap between men and women continues to shrink.
Rewind 15 or so years, and the IT profession is a lonely place for a female. Computer science classes in college are 90 percent to 95 percent male and the IT workplace is definitely testosterone driven. So what's a girl to do? As a female IT professional who served in the public sector for more than 17 years and rose to the highest levels of local government IT leadership - the position of CIO - I often get asked, "How did you do it, especially as a female in a male-dominated profession?"
I can sum it up in a one-liner that I'm often heard saying, "It wasn't always pretty, but we got the job done!" With that said, I often share a few pieces of advice that work well for women and men alike. First, let's take a look at four myths of being a female in a male- dominated profession, then I'll share some advice.
Myth #1: You have to work twice as hard as a man to progress half as much. I can say it's true that I had to work hard - even twice as hard as anyone on some occasions - to rise up through the ranks into a leadership position. As Colin Powell so eloquently said, "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure."
Myth #2: To succeed in a male-dominated profession, you must behave like a man. I can unequivocally say that this myth is false. My experience is that you improve yourself by watching and learning from everyone regardless of gender. Look for what works and try it out. Watch, too, for what doesn't lead to success and avoid it.
My career success was rooted in a few things I learned from the men in my life like promoting yourself - find the balance between ensuring your good work is noticed and bragged about. To my female colleagues - learn this one quickly since putting your head down, working hard and expecting others to notice won't get you anywhere.
I've also learned to act confidently even when unsure of what I'm doing or when doing something for the first time. Also, be a team player - more brains equal better work product. Finally, know when to walk away. If others let you walk away during negotiations, they're really making their best offer, or in the workplace, accept that sometimes you just can't make things turn out right, no matter how hard you try.
Myth #3: Tough men are labeled aggressive, tough women - bitches. Like it or not, my experience has proven this myth is true. If you know me personally, you know that I'm direct and demanding. These personality traits have led to being labeled the b-word on many occasions although my actions were similar to those of my male colleagues. My advice, use it as a reminder to ensure that you're being fair and honest in your dealings. If so, move on. You aren't running for Ms. Congeniality.
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