Rocky Mountain Car Wash COO, Taylor Irwin's take on women in male dominated industries

Women In Male-Dominated Industries: Use Underestimation As Your Edge

If there is one thing that I can count on as a young woman in business within a male-dominated space, it is that I am often underestimated. It makes no difference what position I hold -- the underestimation seems inevitable. Our society has taught us that being underestimated is wrong and unjust. But why is being underestimated a bad thing?

Personally, it has been the highlight of my career. Early on, I realized it is all in how you perceive it, like so many things in life. I perceive being underestimated as an opportunity, while some perceive it as an insult. My perception of underestimation has been a major driving force in my thirst for further education and knowledge of my industry.

We have been told by society that being a woman in business or in male-dominated industries puts us at a disadvantage, but I disagree. What may seem like a disadvantage is actually an edge, an edge we should use to our advantage. Why is it an edge you ask? Allow me to illustrate.

1. You have the ability to shock people by simply being prepared and knowledgeable.

When you’re a young woman in a male-dominated industry, the oft-held belief is that expectations are already set lower than normal; therefore, the opportunities to shock people are endless. For example, stereotypically, women are not expected to know how mechanical things operate, what construction terms mean, what function each part on a piece of equipment performs or even to care about these subjects.

But by being a massive sponge and absorbing information on traditionally male-dominated subjects, you are challenging the status quo for women. When you walk into a room full of engineers, bankers, investors or equipment distributors, you feel empowered because you know that upon leaving the room you will be more respected than when you walked in, directly because of your preparedness and knowledge. When others don't expect you to be prepared, they come to the table less prepared -- this is a prime opportunity for you to seize.

2. Being the black sheep puts you in the driver’s seat.

Take initiative; the stage is yours. There is abundant attention that comes with being the person who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group; everyone notices the black sheep. As a young woman in a male-dominated industry, you’re that person. I had firsthand experience with this when my 27-year-old womanly self strolled into the annual carwash convention, a room full of thousands of car-loving, 50-year-old men discussing VFD motors and carnauba wax.

You may not be in control of the extent to which you are underestimated, but you are in control of how long it lasts. Don’t succumb to being underestimated. Use the momentum to become the exact opposite. Enjoy the attention because it is the driving factor to becoming a force to be reckoned with as soon as you open your mouth. You’ll get attention from being the black sheep, which gives you a stage, which in turn gives you a major platform to speak. Know your facts and become the force.

3. Your thoughts are your only limitations.

If you’re feeling self-doubt, you’re already letting the underestimation win. Whatever you’re doubting about your abilities, figure out what could be the cause. Is it lack of research? Lack of product knowledge? Lack of competitor knowledge? Lack of negotiating abilities? Whatever it is, learn it. Knowledge is power and no one questions the person who has done their research. If you are lacking confidence, educate yourself further. Knowledge is a surefire way to build your confidence.

Whenever I feel self-doubt creeping in, that’s my sign that I need to do more research. If you are thinking, “I can’t negotiate with this guy,” then chances are, you can’t. Don’t let the self-doubt or negative talk creep in. Keep it out by doing your homework. The good news is, your negative thoughts are the only thing limiting you. The bad news is, your negative thoughts are the only thing limiting you.

4. You can only be doubted with your consent.

Have you ever heard the quote, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”? Same principle. No one can continue to doubt or underestimate you unless you give them a reason. Ladies, the ball is in your court. The more knowledgeable you are, the more prepared you are, the more confident you are, the bolder you are, the less you’ll be doubted. Again, you’re in the driver’s seat.

Whoever is doubting your abilities, don’t give them a reason to continue to do so. Women have to be more prepared than the men in our industry, do our homework and be firm in our affirmations. Always be overly prepared and prepare to prepare.

If there are any key points I would like every woman to take away from my experience, the most important would be that you are in control. Whatever the negative stereotype or reason for underestimation of women in your industry, you can challenge it. In addition, I think all women could benefit from viewing underestimation as an opportunity, not a disadvantage. We act on our beliefs. Believing that we are at a disadvantage is hazardous for confidence.

Remember, the only people we have the power to change is ourselves. If people are underestimating you, don't forget that the underestimation comes with a stage and a microphone. Use it. If you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry, I challenge you to be the hardest working, most prepared, most confident and knowledgeable person in every room. I challenge you to be a thought leader. Use your woman power to bring a fresh perspective to a male-dominated space or industry. Remove the imaginary limitations that you yourself have set.