How to Survive a Male-Dominated Workplace

Though we no longer live in the 1960s, it can still be challenging for women to thrive in majority-male sectors, such as construction or the STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Some men hold traditional views about gender and it can be difficult making friends or networking when you’re not one of the boys! Sound familiar? Read this guide to surviving in male-dominated workplace.

Know your worth

There’s been much debate about the gender pay gap in recent years. Women are often paid less or even flat out ignored when it comes to promotions, pay raises and bonuses. Its therefore very important for women to research their industry and understand exactly how much people in their field should be paid.

Male-dominated industries, such as construction, IT or engineering, tend to hire or promote based on experience and additional qualifications, so it’s also very important to understand this. Is there a new health and safety qualification to gain? Could you take some evening classes to learn new technology? Put yourself in a position where you can compete and be held as an equal next to your male colleagues.

Assert yourself

Many women are taught to be passive as children, whereas men are taught to be assertive. Men are therefore much more likely to speak their minds, give direct feedback and eliminate emotion from the conversation. This gains them respect from colleagues and superiors, meaning they are more likely to get promotions.

Speak up for yourself clearly and confidently with these simple assertiveness techniques:

Learn to say no. As noted above, women are expected to be passive and agreeable. But in a male-dominated office, saying yes to everything turns you into a doormat. Your colleagues will respect you more if you put your foot down and say no to too many demands.

Know the difference between aggressive and assertive. Swearing, anger and insults are all very emotionally charged and aggressive. Assertiveness requires you to listen and communicate in a calm, fair and emotionless manner. It is the latter that will gain you respect.

Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted. This is applicable whether you’re in a meeting, talking one-on-one, or on the phone. Try avoiding long pauses and keeping your voice loud. If someone keeps interrupting, just keep talking or politely ask them to wait until you’ve finished.

Use positive body language and speech. Look people in the eye, avoid hunching or frowning, and open sentences confidently with ‘I think’ rather than ‘you don’t’. Make conversations about your ideas instead of a criticism of others. Leave gossip and personal feelings at the door.

Don’t make the tea

In male-dominated offices, some men may assume it’s your job to get the tea or do a spot of cleaning because you’re a woman. You might experience this when male clients visit who don’t know your job title. Though its likely an honest mistake, it’s very easy to feel angry or patronized when this happens.

If a client or colleague makes assumptions and asks you to do such things, simply remind them of your job title. You could point out that it isn’t part of your job description and they should ask someone else. If you work as a manager, programmer, engineer or other skilled role, let the men make their own tea!

Dress like you mean business

As a woman, your work clothes will always be scrutinized, whether you work in a male-dominated office or not. So just remember that your attire should make you feel good, confident and worthy of respect.

Try not to be too girly or sexy – go for cool, subtle styles that men can somewhat to relate to. Diana Pemberton-Sikes, Image Coach and Blogger at Fashion for Real Women, says:

‘When you add fashion elements men themselves enjoy – like cool jackets, scarves, or shades – then you’re speaking their language: functional, appropriate, and largely devoid of frippery and frills. This is the kind of stuff most STEM guys can get behind because it’s fun. It’s sleek. It’s sci-fi.’

However, don’t ignore dress codes. If you visit on-site projects, for example, in the engineering or construction sector, then steel-capped boots and practical clothing will be commonplace. Similarly, you won’t want to look too formal if you work at a tech start-up, where many people wear t-shirts and jeans.


Being a woman in a male-dominated office can feel tough at times. But by following some of these tips, you’ll hopefully feel better prepared for whatever situation you encounter. With more women joining the ranks of the IT, construction and STEM industries every year, many of these issues will likely become a thing of the past.

Written by: Stephanie Rowe, Content Manager at Knowledge Train®

Stephanie is head of content at Knowledge Train, a training company in London providing courses accredited by AXELOS, APMG, PMI, BCS, APM Group and DevOps Institute. She enjoys writing about business skills, careers, qualifications and the workplace. 

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