By Joan Runnheim Olson
Below is a story of a woman who has worked in a male-dominated career for 20+ years. She shares tips on how she has been successful.
Dawn R., a senior designer, started her career as a mechanical drafter over 20 years ago, after completing a one-year technical school program. She was, and still is, in a nontraditional career. Working in the engineering department with mostly men has had its challenges over the years. Despite those challenges, Dawn is in a career which she finds very satisfying.
As a 20 year-old and the only woman in her department, Dawn endured many negative comments from her male counterparts. She acknowledges that women in a nontraditional career have to work harder than men. Over the years, Dawn has found that it’s important to be herself, but to try to fit into her surroundings. If she stands up for herself like the men do, she gains respect.
“Proving herself” was a key factor in being accepted by her male co-workers. Once they could see she was interested in doing a good job, and could do a good job, they slowly began to accept her. Dawn has found that being firm and in command, but not overbearing, has worked well for her over the years. Dawn has survived many rounds of layoffs which she attributes to keeping her head down and always working. When a challenge arises, she accepts it, but isn’t afraid to ask for help when she feels overwhelmed.
Dawn believes that sexual harassment happens everywhere. She finds that married men are more apt to sexually harass. Bringing up the husband’s wife’s name into the conversation generally stops the harassment. If she can’t stop it on her own, Dawn goes to her manager. Dawn has found that professional dress is important. She notices that people will talk about and not respect those who wear skimpy outfits.
However, the bottom line is the need to know her stuff. Through hard work and by building her skill level, Dawn has rose through the ranks to senior designer, which includes supervisory responsibilities. She was eventually offered a promotion to engineer, a position usually held by those with a four-year degree.