Should a woman open a business in a male-dominated industry?
There are quite a few male-dominated industries out there. Construction. Tech. Logistics. Engineering. These sectors all have something in common: if you asked the average person on the street who would own companies that work in these sectors, that person would probably expect the entrepreneur to be male, despite the advances of modern feminism. It is an undeniable truth that certain sectors are just seen as inherently “male”; and some sectors (health, childcare, nursing and beauty, for example) are seen as inherently female.
Times are changing, and male-female skew is balancing out in many industries – but where I live in Australia, 9 in 10 tech jobs are held by men and 9 in 10 childcare jobs are held by women.
What is the scope of the “male” sectors?
It has been widely reported that male-dominated sectors are among the most lucrative. Construction and tech are key components of the GDP of any country, while engineering and logistics have also proven to be highly profitable through the years.
The reach of these powerful industries is huge too; even if you don’t want to directly run a construction company or tech enterprise, there’s always the need for support services that facilitate the big industry companies. There is a consistent need for everything from interstate transport services to administrative assistance in these sectors; the support essentials that keep these sectors ticking over.
Women (and men) report that they often encounter problems in the workplace
So, what is the reality of going into business in a male-dominated sector? It would be wonderful if we could say that it’ll be fine; that you’ll immediately be treated with respect; that no one will comment on your gender should you choose to open a business in a male sector. However, the sad truth is that many women experience issues.
For example, we know that women working in the tech industry are subjected to truly horrific levels of harassment. It may be tempting to think that you would escape this as a business owner, but this is unlikely— the issues can often just arise from a different source.
The business-to-business issues
Are some workplace power dynamics conducive to harassment? Harassment, at its heart, is about power. It’s about someone saying, “look what I can do to you”, and making the victim feel small and insignificant. It is therefore very unlikely that an employee would feel they could do this to you, given you have the ultimate professional power over them.
Unless you’re very fortunate, most of these will be with men. Say, for example, that you run a transport service helping to move heavy machinery across the country for construction firms. Due to the dominance of male workers in the construction industry, it’s likely a woman in this sector will be dealing with male colleagues as part and parcel of your everyday life.
Simply, choosing to go into a sector that has been historically dominated by men means that working women might be dealing with a lot of powerful men, and in many cases, may battle to have their knowledge and expertise acknowledged. Even powerful women struggle to speak up in a meeting full of men, according to this study.
Be prepared for what the future holds
If you are a woman who is deciding to open a business in a male-dominated sector, then you might find that some people (and stakeholders) react to you with surprise. As far as society has come, for the most part, there are still gendered expectations in the workplace. These are being eroded, but the process is slower than most of us would like.
Ideally, you can be polite and ignore it, launch into a discussion of gender theory, or anything in between— the response is completely and absolutely your prerogative. There’s nothing wrong with being a feisty (or “a nasty woman” as this psychological paper jokingly terms them!), but there’s also nothing wrong with holding back to protect your business; it’s your call.
So is it worth it?
Considering all of the above, many women might bristle at the challenges of opening a business in a male-dominated industry. However, if you have always wondered about the entrepreneurial chances available to you in a male-dominated industry, then here are a few things to keep in mind.
Powerful women are, slowly but surely, becoming more and more visible, which should eventually be reflected in a more pleasant working environment. Some non-traditional sectors are lucrative and genuinely exciting, and if it’s your dream, you can rise up and claim what is rightfully yours.