This year marks my tenth year working in arguably one of the most male-dominated areas of technology in the UK today: control and instrument technology for the UK’s oil, gas and renewables industries, most recently high-tech flame and gas detection.
The people I come into contact with operate in a variety of different environments, both onshore and offshore, but all of them have one thing in common – they are almost exclusively men. I am yet to find another woman working in the same role in the UK.
My ten-year milestone led me to reflect on my career so far, and the challenges – and opportunities – that working in such a male-dominated sector presents, as well the direction of travel.
- Get ahead of expectations – people often assume that my technical knowledge is of a lower level than my male counterparts, and I’ve learnt the hard way that there is no substitute for really learning and knowing your subject. It’s extremely important to me to prepare in advance of meetings to make sure that I’m able to demonstrate that I know what I’m talking about. Equally important is being honest when you do not. You’ll gain more respect by going away and finding the answer than bluffing your way through.
- Use differences to your advantage – In industries such as mine where there are very few women, there is huge potential to offer a different perspective on problems and processes that have been approached the same way for years. Technology in the renewables sector is a great example – there is a real need for new and different approaches to make things more efficient, and diversity of thought is crucial to this.
- Call it out – it may be difficult, and it may be uncomfortable, but I’ve learnt that you have to call out inappropriate behaviour rather than let it pass. It can be exhausting, but in the long-term, it pays off and people stop doing it (around me at least). It also emboldens other minority groups to do the same, particularly those who may be more junior or less confident.
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- Find your tribe – find a business that is progressive in its approach and genuinely in tune with your own outlook. I have been extremely lucky with my current business in that its approach to diversity is genuine, and it backs up words with actions. There is no gender pay gap and I have received real support in furthering my career and raising my profile, both within the company, and externally. For example, by being put forward for industry-wide roles. I also have complete confidence that the company would back me if I ever encountered an issue because of my gender, and although that may seem obvious, it’s sadly not always a given.
- Always stay outwardly calm – it’s unfortunately far too common for women to be labelled ‘emotional’ or ‘hysterical’ when they show anger or frustration, whereas similar displays of emotion from men are seen as a legitimate and normal, within reason. Stay calm and aim to deal with difficult situations at work in whichever way best allows you to do this. We all do emotion, it’s a normal part of life, but I’ve learned to do it in private when it comes to my professional life.
- Get ahead and make the change – It is possible to change things from the bottom up, but it’s far easier from the top down. It’s therefore vital that positive change-makers make it through to the top to have maximum influence and help others up behind them. I have played to my strengths, naturally displaying typically ‘patriarchal’ characteristics such as a tendency to speak up and take control of a situation, but I’ve also developed the critical awareness to understand why that means I may be listened to more than others, and I try to highlight this potentially unconscious bias in the teams that I work with so that everyone can be listened to equally.
Thankfully, things are changing, even in the most male-dominated areas of tech. People are more aware of the issues, and although there is much work still to do, the advancement of corporate attitudes, as well as individuals, is helping to drive progress at a much more rapid rate.
Written by By Megan Hine, Draeger Marine and Offshore