Best Woman for the Job: How to Lead in a Male-dominated Field

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A founder who oversees 20 male employees offers four tips for women leading male-dominated teams. 

By Prita Uppal (CEO & Co-founder, Hooked Media)

More and more women are soaring to the top of male-dominated industries. In mid-October, Apple announced the hire of Angela Ahrendts to take on the company’s retail business, a role that puts her alongside other high-profile female technology executives such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer.

Still, Ahrendts is Apple’s only female top executive, and many women who hold leadership positions wind up managing an all-male or male-dominated workforce. As the sole founder and CEO of a successful startup developing app discovery technology, I oversee 20 male employees, and admittedly, I’ve faced obstacles in starting and running my business in an industry populated primarily by men. But I’ve learned a great deal from my experiences. Below I’ve shared some tips for women who have found, or are finding, their way into a leadership role in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Project a Professional Image

When you’re the woman in charge, all eyes are on you, so make sure it’s the right type of attention. Keep your work wardrobe, your accessories, your makeup and your manicures conservative. Let your leadership style define you in professional settings.

Embrace Your Feminine Edge

Recent research from UK-based telecommunations O2 found that women may feel the need to take on masculine traits in order to succeed, including exaggerating assertiveness. But as a leader, it is more important to be authentic and accessible than overly confident. While men can have the same traits, women in general tend to be more adept in intuition, collaboration, communication and listening. These are strong leadership qualities female leaders can tap into to help create a supportive, inclusive work environment and capitalize on the strengths of your staff.

Know Your Audience

Understanding the male perspective in a professional capacity becomes easier over time. But it requires that you pay close attention to all types of feedback – direct and indirect. Men aren’t always as verbal as women. They are typically more action-oriented, so make a mindful effort to observe the way your male employees react to challenges and opportunities.

It’s All About Attitude

It is inevitable that at times, you may feel discriminated against because of your gender. But don’t take it personally and don’t ever get defensive. Use every obstacle as an exercise to make you a better manager. Confide in your loved ones if you must vent, but don’t let negative experiences affect your work performance or distract you from your goals. You earned your position because you were the right person for the job. Continue to build confidence and strengthen the female presence in your industry by attending conferences or serving on advisory boards. You’ve already beat any gender odds that may have been against you, so don’t let anything stop you from contuing to defy them.

Though every person makes their own rules, focusing on the professional image, attitude and relationships you want for yourself will help you stay on track as a leader in any type of field. Even if the numbers say that males dominate your industry, just remember that you – and only you – are in charge of your own success.

What's your top tip for women leading male-dominated teams?

prita_LinkedInAbout the guest blogger: Prita has more than ten years of entrepreneurship experience in gaming, discovery, distribution, and app monetization. She is the founder and CEO of Hooked, funded by USVP and Altos Ventures. Prita has an MS in Engineering from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Photo credit: CliffMuller via Flickr.