Unveiling the Realities Faced by Women in Male-Dominated Industries

Are Male-Dominated Industries Still Male-Dominated?

Over the course of 10 episodes, I spoke with a variety of people in different male-dominated industries to determine whether these industries were still predominantly male. While most interviews led to the same conclusion, what was truly shocking were the stories that came out when the recording turned off discussing things anything from miscarriage to sex toys in the workplace.

While these women hailed from different industries, varying in age, life stages, and career levels, it was eye-opening to discover that many faced similar barriers and shared experiences within their respective fields.

Motherhood

Working mothers universally acknowledge the challenge of balancing career and family, but those in male-dominated industries encounter additional obstacles. Through the series we spoke with many women who faced different experiences in similar veins. 

“He said, ‘Mummy, you’re always leaving,’ and it kinda broke my heart.” – Naomi McDonald, Fire Fighter. While these challenges can be obvious for children, obstacles begin long before this with concerns for a baby’s well-being arising before birth and during pregnancy.

Speaking with Naomi about the struggles of motherhood and a career, the unique challenges of being pregnant as a firefighter emerged.

“But you did just bring up a concept that had not even processed in my brain yet: being pregnant as a firefighter. What was that like? How do you navigate the concept of growing a human inside of you while also needing to run into a burning building? This, I cannot fathom.” – Hannah MacDonald-Dannecker

“I have a very supportive deputy and chief. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I told them because I wouldn’t be able to go into a burning fire. But there are so many different jobs on the field. I could help run accountability, or I could help run the pump.” – Naomi McDonald, Fire Fighter.

While pregnancy may temporarily alter physical limitations, it should not hinder women from pursuing careers in male-dominated industries. Nonetheless, the enduring responsibilities of motherhood do influence granular decisions for some.

“Do you think that it’s a good environment for females and a good job just based on the circumstances of being a pilot or not as much?” – Hannah MacDonald-Dannecker

“I think it can be really intimidating to join the boys’ club. The lifestyle, for sure, is probably a big part of what holds women back because it would be difficult to have a family and be home while also doing this. The airlines now are becoming more accommodating for women, but I know that up until now, it’s been hard and can be a drawback for this career, for sure.” – Ky Maurene, Airline Pilot.

Conversations with these women revealed a pattern of change, with many transitioning into new roles within the same field as their organizations evolved and their personal desires changed.

Sara Mackie is a great example, making intentional choices to move from the truck to the office. Now, she supports other women in their chosen paths.

“It was a great time. I did it for 6 years. At this time, I had just bought a house and had wanted to get off the road. Get a little more settled was my mindset, get into the office and get a routine so I could feel like I could start a family.” – Sara Mackie, Director of Mackie Transport.

“Do you know anyone who lived the lifestyle of a working driving parent? Did you know anyone who did it? With driving, it can be hard with long hours or long nights. Do you know anyone who did it?” – Hannah MacDonald-Dannecker

“We have about 6 female drivers on our team, which is exciting and a big step for the industry, but I don’t know anyone who has young kids. So I don’t know how that would work. We have a lot of contracts, and with the economy changing, our drivers are typically gone one night at a time, but we would be able to accommodate parents of any gender who need to be at home with their kids at night.” – Sara Mackie

The recurring theme from these conversations was that while pregnancy and family life might create hesitation in entering male-dominated industries, it should not impede one’s capability or influence a lifelong career.


Awareness

With motherhood addressed, what remains as a deterrent for women entering male-dominated industries? Like many problems, it boils down to a lack of awareness. Transportation is interesting, aviation fascinating, and nuclear science is mind-blowing. Yet, few girls consider pursuing these paths from childhood.

Most women I spoke to entered their careers by happenstance, through connections or gradual transitions. Few little girls grow up aspiring to be in male-dominated fields.

“It wasn’t as much of a this and then that. I love that you’re already catching onto this. I always tell people I never made a career 180. I made career pivots. I took a little bit of this and took it into the next thing.” – Henna Pryor, Public Speaker.

This trend was typical among our guests, as most started in a different field and transitioned based on interest, proximity, money, or various other factors.

Mackenzie Tigwell, a Nuclear Scientist, has witnessed this firsthand and is dedicated to educating the next generation on the diverse opportunities that Nuclear Science offers.

“I think for a lot of people, the word ‘Nuclear’ sounds really scary, so it pushes a lot of people out. But to come back to this hiring sense, the jobs in the industry are so diverse I don’t think people quite understand. We have jobs for people right out of high school, and we have jobs for people with Phds in quantum physics.” – Mackenzie Tigwell, Nuclear Scientist 

Whether the barrier is motherhood or a lack of knowledge about the industry, one thing remains true across all industries: it is the supportive community that makes a difference in promoting female entry.

“What was it like growing up in the industry? Was it male-dominated, or is it still?” – Hannah MacDonald-Dannecker

“Back when I was starting in the scene, yes. But now, the women’s side is starting to grow a lot. At many events, we are starting to see equal numbers in participants, in the juniors, and in the girls’ division. It makes me really excited for the future of the sport. I didn’t realize how male-dominated it was until I started competing in the pro division where the prize money was substantially less. The older I got, the more my eyes were being opened up to the issues in our sport. Even in a magazine, there would be one or two pictures of a woman out of the whole thing. Or even what’s posted on social media, even at events. The girls go, then the guys go. It has just always felt like we are not the main event… I think there’s still a bit of a gap in the level of respect that is given to women compared to men, but we are starting to see a pivot towards things like equal prize money, and it’s more normal.” – Meagan Ethell, Redbull Athlete

The women consistently reported that while these industries remain predominantly male, they are becoming more inclusive and supportive of women. Although higher-level positions may still be male-dominated, significant progress has been made in supporting women’s careers.

“For a very long time, it was really entirely male in the industry. It has started shifting. So over the last couple of years, it has definitely brought a lot more women into it. And we now have some women in some of those higher roles which is now helping to further allow women to come in and climb and climb the ladder. So it’s shifting. But I would say it’s still quite male-dominated, especially in those higher positions, but the industry is actively trying to get women involved and to help grow and promote those women into higher roles.” -Mackenzie Tigwell, Nuclear Scientist

Top Level Management

The series provided an encouraging perspective on the progression of each industry as experienced by individuals. However, while acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of those who paved the way for the current generation it is clear there is still much to be done.

“The top level of most of these companies is run by men, and I thought we might see some more cracks in that ceiling, but it’s new, so maybe it’s just going to take a little time. I work for a company that had every employee in the company outside of the decision-makers as females – marketing, HR, operations, payroll… all female. Except for the decision-makers. The C-suite was entirely male. It’s great that you can put women in charge of everything but can we have a voice? … No.” – Evette Stobo, People Strategy Consultant – Cannabis Industry.

In some industries this transition has taken a bigger step forward. In others, not as much. With these podcasts stirring many more conversations, specifically within the transportation industry, I was very surprised to talk with industry professionals across the board and really learn how the industry has transformed starting far before I was even born.

“There were times, 20+ years ago, that we would have Christmas parties and during a white elephant exchange the females would be receiving gifts that could only be purchased in adult toy stores.” – Confidential Source.

Imagining an office environment where this was accepted is beyond my comprehension. Through the series I heard horror stories of women being belittled. I heard about females being asked to dress provocatively for the male gaze in an office, or to “step up” and “act like a man” through vulnerable experiences. Behind the scenes things got more raw as people opened up about the intimacy of being a woman surrounded by men at work. Horror stories about working through a misscarriage, sexual harassment time and time again sprinkled with moments of belittling and so much frustration ring through my head even now as I wrap the series.

“Our industry is broken from the inside out. It is all smoke and mirrors.” -Shelly Walker, Founder and CEO of Women’s Trucking Federation.

Understanding that we have taken massive steps forward, away from what can be seen as a vulgar environment and into a more collaborative work space is encouraging for me as a young female in the industry. However, in my personal opinion; until women really begin to break the barrier into more CEO, President and VP positions there will continue to be a gap of equality shown to employees at large across male dominated industries. Yes, we have made progress. Yes, we have a long way to go.