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How to break through the glass ceiling in a man's industry

Question:

I am professional engineer with 20 years experience in the mining industry, I have a bachelor of engineering metallurgy degree from McGill University. You may know that the mining industry is suffering with a lack of experienced people. There is a large gap between the retiring group and the junior, more recently graduated group.

However, in my case, I find my opportunities are not as advanced because I am a female in a very male-dominated industry. Although currently I have three job offers on the table and other people calling and contacting me. However, the offers are still for a role that is below my level and years of experience, I believe. I find many males – with fewer years of experience than I have – are in more senior roles.

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I need help. I feel like I am in a rut and have hit the glass ceiling.

Answer:

Firstly, it is quite an accomplishment to have three job offers on the table, as well as others inquiring about you. That is terrific. From what you said, the opportunities you are being presented with are not at the level you want to be at.

My first question would be to see if you are positioning yourself at the level you want to be in. You may be telling people what you do right now. Perhaps you need to tell them what you want to do next – and what skills you have in order to get to that next level.

What is the message you want people to know about the kind of role you want to play? If you want a leadership role, then communicate that strongly so when people learn of roles in your area, they know what should be sent your way.

My second question for you is: Are you applying and interviewing for roles that call for your level of experience and expertise? Never apply for a job you do not want, even just to get the interview. And when interviewing, focus on the leadership qualities that you need to land that job. Sometimes you need to talk more about what you can do for them now, rather than what you have done in the past. This shows the interviewer your ambition, potential and gives him or her the idea that you want to advance.

Overall, do you know for certain that you are being presented with roles that are too junior for you? It may help to talk with colleagues and find out how long they needed to 'pay their dues' before a more senior role was offered to them. Sometimes it is not just about years of experience, rather more about the kind of work performed. Perhaps there is a task, skill, training or project you need to master or complete before that step-up is closer in reach. Again, talking with colleagues or a manager may be helpful in understanding why you are not moving up in the business. And make it clear to them that you have the ambition to move forward.

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Gender bias does exist in the workplace, especially in those where one tends to dominate in numbers. There is no magic answer to this, other than to stay true to what you want and be constantly working to understand and outsmart the barriers that exist.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for Cam McRae Consulting in Calgary.

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