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Thriving Beyond Boundaries: Women Succeeding in Male-Dominated Industries

By Kami J. Anderson, Ph.D.


In 1972, Katharine Graham of the Washington Post Company, became the first woman CEO to make the Fortune 500 list (Pew Research Center, 2023). Although women account for 41.9% of the workforce, as of 2023, the proportion of women in leadership roles has dropped 10% to 32.2% (Forbes, 2023). The pandemic especially disrupted women's participation across all aspects; economic, health, and educational opportunities.


In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, the rise of women leaders stands as a testament to progress and potential. Yet, despite remarkable strides, gender disparities persist at the highest levels of leadership, hindering the full realization of women's talent and expertise, particularly in male-dominated industries and leadership positions. 


In a 2023 article, Forbes cautions of a “Drop to the Top,” addressing the dearth of support for women in leadership roles within male-dominated spaces which has resulted in fewer instead of more women actively seeking leadership roles in those sectors. By examining the underlying causes and the impact on organizational dynamics we can discuss potential strategies for fostering a more inclusive and equitable environment for all.


The absence of female leaders can perpetuate a cycle of underrepresentation, making it difficult for women to envision themselves in leadership positions and limiting opportunities for mentorship and advancement. The lack of gender diversity in leadership can contribute to a homogenous organizational culture that is less inclusive and less responsive to the needs of diverse employees. 


Amidst these challenges, there are inspiring success stories that serve as hope and motivation. Is there a company that defied conventional wisdom and shattered gender stereotypes to cultivate a culture of inclusivity and empower women to pursue leadership positions? What are examples of success stories that can be used as inspiration and guidance to mitigate a “drop to the top” in our respective industries?  Presidential Consultants has several partner organizations that are proud to excel with the representation of women in leadership roles, even in male-dominated spaces.  Let’s take a moment to highlight one, Oatey Company.


Since 1916, Oatey has provided reliable, high-quality residential and commercial plumbing products. Oatey operates a comprehensive manufacturing and distribution network to supply thousands of products for professional builders, contractors, engineers, and do-it-yourself consumers around the world. (Oatey, 2024)


The most current statistics from Zippia (2021) state women account for only 3.5% of workers in the plumbing industry. According to the World Bank Utility survey (2019), water companies hire men over women at a rate of 4 to 1. Yet Oatey also has a high proportion of women working in its C-suite. In addition to having women in leadership positions throughout the organization, Oatey has women in their workplace prominently featured throughout their communications and public-facing outreach like websites and newsletters.


Oatey not only demonstrates a commitment to addressing gender parity but also reaps the benefits of the diverse perspectives and talents of the women who lead their teams. As we look to emulate their success, we recognize the immense value of learning from organizations like Oatey, whose dedication to gender diversity serves as a model for positive change in male-dominated workplaces around the world.


Learning from Oatey, we can employ several tools at our respective organizations that can facilitate more women feeling supported and encouraged to continue the leadership pipeline.


Championing and sponsoring versus mentorship

We are all familiar with the traditional relationships between mentors and mentees. Mentoring focuses on providing guidance and support to help an individual develop their skills and career while championing involves actively advocating for and promoting another person's success within the organization or industry. A champion is someone who actively supports and speaks up on behalf of a woman, often by leveraging their own influence, credibility, and networks to create opportunities and remove barriers. 


Unlike mentoring, championing may not involve a formal or ongoing relationship; instead, it focuses on actively promoting the success and visibility of women, whether through public endorsements, recommendations for promotions or opportunities, or providing exposure to influential stakeholders.


Increasing the visibility of women in leadership within the organization 

A visible commitment to gender diversity and inclusion can enhance an organization's reputation as an employer of choice. Additionally, visible representation of women leaders can improve retention rates by demonstrating that the organization values and supports the career progression of all employees.


Research has shown that gender-diverse leadership teams are associated with better financial performance and business outcomes (Barron’s, 2023; Chen et al, 2023). By increasing the visibility of women leaders, organizations can benefit from the diverse skills, expertise, and leadership styles that women bring to the table, ultimately driving improved performance and results.


Know when to advocate for change

By speaking up and pushing for change, individuals can drive progress and contribute to positive transformation within their organizations or society as a whole. Advocacy is a powerful tool for effecting positive change and advancing important causes, and knowing when to wield that tool strategically can make a significant difference in the world. Advocacy helps hold individuals, organizations, and institutions accountable for their actions and decisions. Recognize when it's necessary to advocate for change within the organization, whether it's addressing systemic issues of gender inequality or advocating for policies and practices that support diversity and the inclusion of women.

While the challenges and obstacles that women encounter in leadership roles are significant, some proactive strategies and solutions can be implemented to affect meaningful change. By addressing systemic issues such as gender bias, discrimination, and lack of representation, organizations can create environments where women have equal opportunities to succeed and thrive.  Through initiatives focused on championing, sponsorship, advocacy, influence, and visibility of current women leaders within our organizations, we can empower women to overcome barriers and reach their full potential as leaders. 


 

 Dr. Kami (pronounced kah-MEE) Anderson is an interculturalist, scholar, and language advocate. As the Director of Learning Design & Senior Trainer for Presidential Consultants, Dr. Kami specializes in leadership development and diversity programming with a mission to empower learners with practicality and self-assurance.


An internationally acclaimed TEDx speaker, Dr. Kami Anderson conducts workshops and has been extensively published in both English and Spanish. Her experience as a former educator at both the K-12 and college levels informs her deep commitment to mentorship and education.



References

  • Chen, C, Sutton, N. K., Yi, B, and Zheng, Q (2023). “The connection between gender diversity and firm performance: Evidence from Taiwan.” International Review of Financial Analysis (89).

  • Foster, L. (2023). “Gender Diversity Helps Companies Deliver Better Returns, Says BofA.” Barron’s

  • www.womneinlumbingandpipe.org. Date retrieved 10 March 2024

  • World Bank Water Utilities Survey (2019). www.ib-net.org. Date retrieved 10 March 2024



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