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Meet The Women Thriving In Male-Dominated Industries

Mariza, Nicole, Mariana, Katharina and Betina share their stories of how they found success in industries where women are a minority
Mariza, Nicole, Mariana, Katharina and Betina share their stories of how they found success in industries where women are a minority
  • Business school cohorts strive for gender equality, but do graduate career goals reveal divide? 
  • Five women share their personal success stories in male dominated industries 
  • It’s clear women still face challenges in male dominated industries – but things are improving

Slowly but surely the number of women studying at business schools is on the rise. We are seeing more MBA programmes come, somewhat close, to gender parity, with over half of the top 100 ranked MBAs by the Financial Times having at least a 40% female representation in 2022.

In the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) Women and Business School report in 2020, it was also reported that around 47% of all test takers of the GMAT – the assessment that many business school students take as part of their application – were women.

According to GMAC’s 2022 Prospective Students survey, there was a huge range in the types of industries that both men and women wanted to step into post-graduation. Men typically were more likely than women to want to work in industries such as consulting, finance, technology and manufacturing, whilst women were more likely than men to want to work in roles such as marketing, communications, advertising and the non-profit sector.

But despite this, there are greater pushes for gender diversity in these sectors, not only for the want of improving parity, but the need for a greater diversity of voices and perspectives within these industries.

Here we look at five successful women bucking this trend and thriving in what have been typically male-dominated industries, showcasing those who have become successful despite perhaps facing greater barriers, challenges and even potentially discrimination in their field.

Mariza Tsakalerou – Assistant Professor of Engineering and Management at Nazarbayev University

Mariza Tsakalerou, Assistant Professor of Engineering and Management at Nazarbayev University
Mariza Tsakalerou, Assistant Professor of Engineering and Management at Nazarbayev University

“The biggest difficulty for me is the stereotyping and the assumptions that come with being a woman in engineering,” says Mariza Tsakalerou, Assistant Professor of Engineering and Management at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan. Mariza says that often women are overlooked for challenging projects within the engineering sector, despite having the same capabilities or knowledge in technical areas as men.

Mariza joined the world of engineering as a Masters student in 2003, and after studying a PhD, joined Nazarbayev University as a Professor in Engineering in 2015. She was compelled to join the engineering sector for a number of reasons, “I enjoyed real-world challenges, problem-solving and logical reasoning – engineering seemed like the logical choice, and I chose to pursue a career in a field that is not traditionally associated with my gender,” she says. “At the same time, engineering is a field that tends to offer high earning potentials and many job opportunities. It was also compelling to challenge the gendered status quo and the perceived superiority of men in the field.”

Yet, she has certainly faced challenges within the sector. “Engineering is still an old boys’ club. We have the same skills as our male peers, but we need a few more to survive in this industry,” says Mariza, who cites confidence, resilience and being adaptable as the key skills needed for woman to thrive in the engineering sector.

Mariza recommends a sharp focus on the importance on speaking up for themselves and other women. “We must not forget to advocate for ourselves and our fellow females when needed, to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and is given equal opportunities,” she says. “Our advocacy skills can help us create a more inclusive and equitable workplace.”

When asked what advice she would give to other women in the engineering sector, Mariza says “Do not forget to stand up for yourself. In this boys’ club, you will face challenges at some point. You are the best advocate for your own interests and needs. Don’t be afraid to speak up.”

Nicole Hoffmann – CEO and co-founder of Sentryc GmbH

Nicole Hoffmann, CEO and co-founder of Sentryc GmbH
Nicole Hoffmann, CEO and co-founder of Sentryc GmbH

As not only a female entrepreneur, but also a female CEO, Nicole Hoffmann is certainly an outlier. Something that she believes has made her successful in her field is her ability to convince people of her real value, she says, “I never had the feeling that I was at a mandatory disadvantage. As an entrepreneur, you have to be a fighter, smart and brave. You have to convince people to share your vision, to see the innovation and opportunity you see,” says Nicole.

Nicole Hoffmann is CEO and co-founder of Sentryc GmbH – a tech company focused on online brand protection and product piracy – and credits much of the skills she learned to become an entrepreneur to her time studying the International Business Administration programme at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. “Though I’m an entrepreneur at heart, becoming successful in something always requires a lot of training and the right tools, a lot of which I learned at Frankfurt,” she says, “But becoming a good leader is a long journey, and I think you have to work on that every day, again and again. Experience helps, but circumstances, cultures and people change constantly.”

Nicole states that if she was to point one difference between men and women in her sector it would likely be the guilt or embarrassment that women face for potential mistakes in comparison to men. “Women tend to feel more guilty and embarrassed by mistakes and pressure ourselves a lot.” She says “In the end, as an entrepreneur, you have to deal with this in one or the other way. And I am proud to see more and more women joining that path.”

If she could give one piece of advice to other women, it would be that the ground is much more solid once you stand on your own two feet. “Some facts are not in any book, respectively nobody learns them from a normal employed position. These facts are only revealed by one’s own experience with responsibility,” she says.

Mariana Carvalho – Technology Commercialisation Manager at Neste

Mariana Carvalho, Technology Commercialisation Manager at Neste

“For me, the biggest challenge was to get that first opportunity,” says Mariana Carvalho, a Technology Commercialisation Manager at Neste – a global renewable energy company. Coming from a background in engineering, Mariana felt the need to focus on expertise and skills other than just that that she had learned in the engineering sector when applying for roles.

“I focused on building my expertise on new technologies and innovations in the sector, where the old ways of thinking are less critical, and sometimes one is even expected to break that pattern,” says Mariana. “That went well, but it is also a luxury and we should fight to break those patterns and not just expect that everyone can go around it and succeed.” Mariana is also currently looking to improve her broader knowledge even further, studying at Aalto University Executive Education, in Finland, where she is based.

Though clearly succeeding in the technology-focused role that she is in, Mariana has still experienced discrimination in her working life. “One concrete thing that I experience quite often is interruption when I speak,” Mariana says, “I don’t keep scores, but I feel women are more likely to get interrupted and hence not get the necessary “airtime” to convey their ideas. It is important not to let yourself be silenced and find ways to respectfully get back to your point and convey your message.”

Not only does Mariana emphasise the importance of learning new, broader skills, and showcasing these to potential employers and colleagues, but she also insists than women working in male-dominated sectors have to be tenacious. “An essential skill is persistence. Knowing that the odds might not be in your favour but you still don’t give up. Sometimes things don’t go as expected, but the most important thing is learning from your experiences and keep pushing.”

Mariana urges more women to join sectors that are traditionally-male dominated and states things will only get better when there is more representation in these industries. “The more representation we have, the faster change will happen,” she says.

Katharina Klopfer – Consultant in Industrial Scaffolding for PERI

Katharina Klopfer, Consultant in Industrial Scaffolding for PERI

When Katharina Klopfer joined the construction sector, she didn’t even think about it being a male-dominated industry. “I think it was good not to think about it in this way as it allowed me to live through my junior years unbiased, with a sense of curiosity to make new experiences,” she says. As a consultant in industrial scaffolding for PERI – a construction firm based in Germany – Katharina says she’s been fortunate enough to work in roles where she has not faced discrimination or particular challenges personally just because she is a woman, however, she sees a lack of female role models in her everyday environment.

“I do see more females my age now who become more visible but less females with over 10 years of experience,” says Katharina. “I do have male colleagues I look up to, but I feel men face different challenges throughout their career. This is why I like to research about powerful women in business and learn from their stories, to cultivate the right mind-set and to be mindful about the chances and pitfalls you may encounter as female.”

Katharina, who studied a BSc in Business Administration at the University of Mannheim Business School in Mannheim, Germany, says that she actually believes being a woman in a male-dominated industry can have its benefits too. “Working in a male-dominated environment was mostly in my favour. I have the feeling so far that I have complimented each team with my (female) spirit.”

When asked what skills and qualities are necessary for women working specifically in the construction sector, Katharina states that being firm and direct helped her to achieve her goals. “Instead of asking for permission I started to take responsibility for my decisions, which helped me building up my independence. If you have to deal with alpha-males a high self-esteem creates an aura which has helped me during negotiations to not be pushed aside”, she says.

Betina Swanstrøm – Investment Banking Analyst at ABG Sundal Collier

Betina Swanstrøm, Investment Banking Analyst at ABG Sundal Collier

When you are relatively new to a male-dominated industry, the most important thing you can do is step out of you comfort zone, according Betina Swanstrøm, an Investment Banking Analyst at ABG Sundal Collier, in Norway. “Being relatively new to the industry, I believe it’s crucial to step out of your comfort zone. To do this, I regularly attend events and connect with industry veterans, even if it feels daunting.” she says.

As someone who has stepped into the investment industry relatively recently, after graduating from an MSc in Economics and Business Administration from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), Betina says she has not faced any discrimination within her role for being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and if anything has benefited from some of the female-focused initiatives. Perhaps this is a sign that the times are now changing for women stepping into their first roles in today’s business environment.

Though the high ratio of men in finance didn’t really affect her decision to pursue a career in the investment field, Betina does say that the “ratio has also significantly improved since I started working there”. And despite not facing any overwhelming challenges in the investment industry, Betina does believe that women must use all of the available resources for them when they are in a male-dominated industry however.

“I’m a firm believer in showing up and asking questions, and I recommend finding a mentor to exchange experiences and advice.”, Betina says. “Networking events and connecting with other women in the industry are also excellent opportunities to grow and learn.”

When asked what advise she would have for other women looking to step into the investment industry, Betina says “I would advise you to connect with other women who are already established in the field. We are eager to support you and bring more talent to our industry. Also, make sure to follow your dreams, and not someone else’s’ – in my opinion, the more significant issue nowadays is the latter rather than gender discrimination.”

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