To the Women Working in Male-Dominated Fields

Vulnerability can be a daily hazard for those who identify as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Why? Because we take risks every day showing up as ourselves when the world expects us to constantly talk, act, think, and work like a man, yet still be a kind, good, obedient person who keeps her head down.

Working with men requires vulnerability when… 

  • you have to ask for help.
  • you’re still the only woman in the room (yet the statistics keep saying “it’s all fixed now”). 
  • you ask for time off or set boundaries to your working hours.
  • you have to decide how to take action (or not) when men ignore you.
  • you realize that some men genuinely see you, and you wouldn’t be where you are without them.
  • you choose to say yes quickly to a great opportunity, even when you’re not quite ready.
  • you take said opportunity then think, did I just get taken advantage of? 
  • you allow yourself feel all the hurt, anger, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, disgust, jealousy, and judgment that comes any time you feel vulnerable at work.

For me, I have a double whammy when it comes to working in a male-dominated field. I’m a civil engineer, of which there are about 25% females on average. But I also work in the construction industry, of which there are about 10% females on average.

What’s worse is that these statistics don’t even consider other affected groups: Asian/Asian Indian, Black, Latinx, Native American, and anyone with any form of disability, seen or unseen. The statistics nose dive drastically from there and still severely lack inclusion.

No matter what industry we’re in, women benefit more in the long run from bringing our whole selves to work. Not the scaled down version that confines to “their” rules. We got into our industries for a reason by something deep within propelling us forward–NOT by how many people told us we couldn’t or shouldn’t because we may not fit in.

It took me nearly 10 years into my career to feel that I really belonged in it. And what I’ve learned thus far is this: by focusing more on who I am, it makes what I produce that much richer, more connected, and more sustainable. But that’s a story (or maybe a book?) for a different day.

I wrote this manifesto to remind us that our voice–however WE choose to express it–matters in our line of work. 

I am… Human. I will know that my ability to bring humanity to my job is an asset, not a liability.

I am… Determined. I will take a seat at the table, not on the side. I will get there early enough to take that seat.

I am… Vocal.  I won’t hesitate to raise my hand, when I’m ready. I will speak up when I’m convicted, even if it’s uncomfortable. If I don’t speak up, I will not shame myself. I will decide what “vocal” looks like for me.

I am… Curious. If I don’t know the answer to a technical question, I won’t doubt my ability to learn. I will gracefully respond with “let me get back to you” as I’ve witnessed my male peers do. I will give myself time to find answers and never stop asking questions.

I am… Empowered. I will know that I am tougher than I look, whether society wants to see it or not. I am NOT an imposter. I belong here as long as I choose to stay here.

I am… Balanced. I will listen to my gut, especially with outside commitments. I do not have to go to everything. I will go to happy hours, work trips, and conferences to the extent that I’m able. I will say no if it competes with my overall well-being or sanity based on my family commitments. Saying no does not mean I cannot succeed.

I am… Creative. My ideas and perspectives are worthy of sharing. Only I possess the traits and skills I have, and only I can give myself permission to share when the time is right. My field depends on it to stay on the cutting edge.

I am… Decisive. I will deeply consider the importance of the decisions I make every day, big or small. I will say no when I mean no, and I will say yes when I mean yes. I will do this guilt-free, and I will take the time I need to make the best decision I can, given the time allowed, people involved, and information at hand. 

I am… Resilient. When someone asks me what I do and I say I’m a “fill-in-the-blank” (engineer, lawyer, mechanic, pastor, choir director, pilot, firefighter, architect, farmer, software developer, TV/film camera operator, the list goes on…), I will wait for their “I didn’t expect that” reaction to subside. And if I need to go vent afterwards, I will absolutely give myself permission to do so. 

This is for any woman who’s ever doubted her place, talents, or contributions to a male-dominated field. Writing this is a vulnerable act for me in itself. I wouldn’t have even thought to write this without having gone through my own fears, doubts, and struggles from my experiences working in a field where I often feel less than. It is difficult to even admit I’ve felt this way about a career I enjoy so much.

Still, I implore us to heal our self-inflicted wounds, ignore the silence from those we hoped would support us but don’t, and proudly show more of ourselves every day in the career we chose, the purpose we love.

This essay is brought to you by my womxn’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find us on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out these amazing writers and their perspectives on Vulnerability below:

Being Vulnerable With My Body by Hannah Kewley

Quitting Cold Turkey by Mia Sutton

I Have Been Sick All My Life by Jennifer Brown

Anxiety Hangover by Christine Carpenter

Butterfly Wings by Megan McCoy Dellecese

with love, eunice by Eunice Brownlee

 

Final Verdict: I Love My Products

Oh, beauty products. How we love to loathe you. Or is it loathe to love you? I’ve had my fair share of these moments, vacillating between appreciating and despising the beauty industry and what I perceive it stands for.

But after some “beauty”-ful soul searching on where I stand with it all, I’ve decided: I love having the choice to buy and experiment with so many different hair, skin, and makeup products. As I often do, allow me to share my whys…

My products do just “feel good”—when I keep it in balance. The scents, the colors, the silkiness when applied. The sheer level of creativity one can appreciate from entrepreneurs who risk it all to create products they believe in wholeheartedly. But I’m responsible for that balance. I’ve fallen for plenty of labels promising that my life will in fact be changed by a certain blend of coconut oil and shea butter. I’ve thrown out expired products, which feels regrettably like a jangle of coins hitting the trash can, never to be seen again. But I’ve also bonded with my girlfriends over just the right dry shampoo, or reminisced over a favorite vacation when I brought back a lotion or soap to help me remember.

Wandering the beauty aisles in Target is one of my favorite forms of self-care. In the pandemic, it gets me out and walking around, especially on these colder fall days. The colorful, brightly lit aisles lift me up while I browse and make new discoveries. The Soap & Glory labels tell me it can still be summer, even if only in my mind. And I can splurge or go cheap, whether it’s a $2 face mask or a $20 scrub.

Since March, I’ve painted my nails a different color every two weeks. It started out as a simple routine to keep me entertained in quarantine, but I came to enjoy the femininity of it. It keeps me from biting my nails (and keeps those hands clean) and forces me to sit still for a few minutes. I invested $60 in the Dazzle Dry system that is hands-down the best—no major chips for over a week. With about 15 manicures down by now, and only halfway through my system, the price per use continues to drop as I keep enjoying my DIY mani time (bonus!).

Lastly, products help me look older. Call it “blessed by good genes”, but naturally looking 10 years younger doesn’t always have its benefits. Especially since I work with mostly men who can, subconsciously or not, find other reasons not to take me seriously. A little eyeliner, mascara, and multi-tasking tinted moisturizer go a long way to help me look as confident as I feel, when I know I know what I’m talking about at work.

Sometimes I use two products, sometimes ten. A Tahitian vanilla body scrub or lavender clay mask on the weekend can make a long shower feel like a sweet escape. I will never get through my Birchbox samples, even though I quit a year ago. Hair smoothing oil is a game changer that gives me an extra day or two between washes. I love practicing this flexibility to decide what works for me and when.

We each have our own ways of feeling beautiful. With the sh*t show of a year it’s been, and no signs of that slowing down, my products give me space to stop and enjoy. I hope you are finding little ways to feel beautiful. Each of these moments is significant and matters—letting beauty infiltrate from the outside, reminding us to keep believing in our beauty on the inside.

Asking Why Transformed Me

I don’t mean to be dramatic with this statement. I’ve naturally been curious since I was a kid. But I’ve been known to be shy, too, up until my late 20s. By making it more of a habit to ask “why”, I started uncovering hidden gems, scattered about in everyday conversation, by adding this three-letter word to my vocabulary.

I used to think there was some unspoken limit to asking questions. That it would hinge delicately on either too many questions or highly personal questions. I could speculate a hundred reasons why—as young girls, we’re trained to be nice and obliging, I’m a recovering codependent, who knows. But I often felt a mixture of shock and respect at the audacity of other people’s questions. This could be at work, with friends, or casual observations of strangers when out and about. Did they really just ask that? Are they really going to answer that? Side note: one thing that can make my skin crawl is awkward silence.

Among the different jobs I’ve held, I worked in a corporate quality department for a couple years. We came up with standards and procedures for producing work consistently and doing it “right the first time.” We would audit procedures to see how well they worked and tweak as needed.

Before we made any tweaks, we’d conduct a root cause analysis. Stay with me. It’s the simplest thing. It sounds ultra-fancy to use something called the “Five Whys”. But it’s just asking why until you’ve gotten to the root of the problem. That’s it. And no, you don’t have to ask five whys each time.

Asking why helped us uncover way more information than if we saw a problem and assumed what to fix. For example, we had a review process that worked well in design but was complex for reviewing things like progress reports or memos. Instead of assuming that people didn’t understand the process (and adding unnecessary steps or guidance), we dug in and found out it was taking too much time. So we instituted a shorter review process that still caught errors but didn’t kill the budget.

The transforming part about all this, is that asking why helped me personally. I started seeing how making a slight assumption, but not following up, would cause my relationships to stagnate. By instead asking why, when it felt appropriate, I became intrigued by the spectrum of emotions the word invoked. From the simple power it can have when looking for answers, to innocent curiosity that creates connection. And when I started learning about codependency, it gave me the language to let go. If someone wanted to answer, great. If not, it wouldn’t affect my relationship with them whatsoever.

The more I asked why, the less I feared the question or its impacts. I began having higher quality conversations with friends and family (no pun intended). Why did you pick that vacation spot? Why did you decide to switch jobs/schools/etc.? This is all within reason of course. In general, I personally don’t believe in asking why people decide to have kids or not, or why they believe in a certain religion or not. Asking why to the point of defense, or putting someone on a stage to exhaustively explain themselves, isn’t the point.

Root cause analysis gave me permission to ask why. Learning about codependency gave me the courage to practice. Having these tools helped me uncover so much richness I would’ve otherwise missed.

Photo location: Road to Hana, Maui

10 Things I’ve Learned About Myself After 10 Years of Marriage

My 10 year wedding anniversary is today. I feel like we blinked, and 2020 showed up. There we are in 2010, in the traditional black and white garb, followed by a colorful honeymoon in Hawaii. In the next blink, it’s a blurry, action-packed ride, and 2020 zoomed on in. The year that many of us want to erase or rewrite almost as soon as it began.

I’ve always been a Learner type – it’s one of my five strengths in the CliftonStrengths themes. I love soaking up knowledge, whether just to “know it”, or to categorize and file it away for future use at some opportune time. When I got married, I knew I’d learn and grow as a wife with the same curiosity and vigor that I had throughout friendships, my career, and other aspects of life.

But what I did not anticipate was how much I would learn about myself. Just me, outside of all the other hats I wear. More so this year than the past 9 years combined, I’ve grown and stretched in ways I never anticipated. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever knew I could. I’m certain I wouldn’t have had this much personal growth without the gift of marriage, where you link up your life with another: hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities, flaws and struggles and fears, all of it. 

To commentate this major milestone, I want to take a different spin and pause from the “here’s how we did it” angle. That is all good and worth celebrating, don’t get me wrong. But today, I’m reflecting with gratitude on all that I’ve gained from the mid-20s woman I was to the mid-30s woman I am now.

  1. There is no limit to the amount of grace I can show my spouse – especially when they don’t deserve it and especially when I don’t want to. It is really difficult to put this into practice. But, the more I try, the better I get. This goes for relationships beyond my marital one, too.
  2. The illusion that each spouse gives 50/50 to the marriage is irrelevant and inaccurate. Some days I feel like I give 65 and he gives 35, he gives 80 and I give 20, etc. There is no magic formula, and self-awareness goes a long way when assessing where I’m at at any given time. (side note: Brené Brown refers to this concept as the family gap plan – highly recommend listening to S1, E4 on her podcast, “Unlocking Us”).
  3. Humor is a nonnegotiable asset; specifically, it is a lifeline in the heat of an argument. I really hate it when my husband makes me laugh when I’m just about to land point #378 of how I’m right. But then again I love it, because I get to laugh with him, and the argument ends sooner. I wish I had countless examples of how often I embraced this, but it’s a regrettable few.
  4. My husband is supportive of my personal ambitions, while at the same time keeping me in check when I stray across the line of overdoing it (marriage has definitely exposed the depths of my intensity). But ultimately, I am the one who gives me final permission to fulfill my goals and passions. They may have evolved or shifted from when we got married to now, but they are still mine to own once I’m start pursuing.
  5. Self-care is an absolute necessity, and a practice that I did not intentionally start until last year. I was fooling myself when I thought I was tough or brave or sacrificial if I didn’t workout or take a long bubble bath once in a while. It did not make me “super-wife” like I hoped it would. My dissatisfaction with myself slowly seeped into other areas of my life, until I made the conscious decision to take better care of myself.
  6. I do not like awkward silence; I’ll be the first to fill the dead air with mindless banter to avoid any real or perceived discomfort. However, I learned the importance of autonomy and letting things just “be” sometimes. Magical things can happen in silence, such as moods shifting, clarity to tough decisions, missing each other, and so much more.
  7. This may sound trite, but I discovered I can host parties by myself. As a kid, I was an only child, and all of my relatives lived out of state, so we didn’t have regular get-togethers. My husband has a knack for whipping the house into shape, gathering people around the kitchen island, and cooking a delicious meal. His skills rubbed off on me, and being able to share quality time with friends and family at our house is one of my all-time favorite activities.
  8. The Fruits of the Spirit are my anchor when I am lost and feel like I’m failing, in life or in marriage: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Who doesn’t want one or more of those?! Sometimes I’ll meditate on just one word for a few minutes to help bring clarity to my angst.
  9. I am a recovering codependent. It basically means that you look to others to fulfill your innermost needs instead of looking within. I am now a self-proclaimed work in progress and have woken up to the reality that the Land of Perfection is a fictional place.
  10. Actively choosing to be the things I want to be – kind, joyful, patient, etc. – is incredibly challenging. But, it is way more effective than just wishing or praying for them. I naively thought these qualities would “just happen” and be bestowed on me by willpower or “should”-ing myself. But once I gravitated toward books, sermons, or podcasts with actionable steps that felt doable, I slowly began to grow and mature in grace.

Marriage has taught me so much, and I know it will continue to as I share life with my best friend. I’m closing with one of my favorite quotes that I want to start off with for the next 10 years. Cheers!