Do you know where we can find more women like you?

One recent morning, I came into the office and immediately a male colleague blurts out, “do you know where we can find more women like you?” Another day, another nudge.

Women in male-dominated industries and the roles we play have been weighing on my mind lately. It all started with the March on Madison where my friend challenged us ladies to keep the conversation going afterwards. I had no idea what I’d do, but a series of seemingly unique, yet somehow connected occurrences and conversations have transpired since. Random? Or did the march and our recent change in political climate somehow tune me into the world that’s always been around me?

Being a woman in male-dominated industries has truly never been something I’ve pondered much. But I’ve been wondering lately, maybe I should. And where would I start?

My teammate’s greeting that morning was the final straw because sadly…I didn’t know how to answer him. And what exactly did he mean by “like me”? And worst of all, why didn’t I know how to answer or provide some guidance?

The oldest of three girls, I was raised by a tomboy who, early on, worried about having a girl because she didn’t know how to “do hair.” To this day, her stories about waiting tables and working as a river guide out West make her extremely proud. At 15, my father made me change a flat on our Chevy Astro by myself while the family looked on because “you’ll be driving next year and you need to know how to do this.” Point being, my sisters and I were raised as “people” — not so much “girls.” Don’t get me going on Disney Princess’… But, I digress.

My beloved core team…of all men.

Not every woman needs to fit a certain mold to get ahead in a male-dominated workplace, but I laid awake thinking about my co-worker’s question and my inability to answer got me thinking about about my friendships, the powerful women in my life, myself, women I don’t know, but admire and women “like me.” How did we get here? Below are some of my non-scientific observations:

Many of us played sports growing up

90% of female CEOs played sports growing up. Amazing, but not surprising. Sure, being a CEO isn’t for everyone, but you get the point. Amazing qualities can be born from the lessons learned while competing and training — failure, success, hard work, physical and mental limits, teamwork, work ethic and more. Did you know that Enterprise car rental not only sponsors NCAA, but recruits directly from collegiate sports programs in an effort to build their management pool based on personal qualities versus educational focus?

We started working at a young age — and most did something in the service industry (i.e., hospitality, restaurants, even retail)

My husband, sisters and I all had this experience and we 100% believe the world would be a nicer and better place if everyone worked in the service industry for a year. Persevering when the pay is on the lower end and the pace is on the higher end teaches a certain type of confidence and hustle very few other jobs can provide. Nothing toughens you up and equally humanizes you like handling an asshole, ugh, I mean challenge, face-to-face. I have a friend (who, ironically, is in the same field as me) that believes in this so much that she can’t help but get visibly upset when someone suggests that “kids should be kids” and left to play and go to school. In general, work also teaches money management, prioritization, empathy, confidence, and much, much more.

We were held to a high standard

I believe standards, integrity and work ethic are so important and need to be cultivated with a little tough love and it all starts with our teachers, parents and other caregivers. Recently I was able to watch my brother and sister-in-law handle my young niece’s breakdown over why she hadn’t completed her math homework (she was struggling to understand it). They made her finish it, while my husband and I were looking on, even though she’d be “embarrassed” by entering school late. Not too long ago I followed up and learned that she was now excelling in math. Well done Mom & Dad! Our mentors and family have pushed us through barriers allowing us to emerge better for it on the other side even if there were tears.

We embrace being the underdog and have risen from failure

Speaking of underdogs and failures, I’ve recently gotten into Lance Armstrong’s The Forward podcast. He’s had some incredibly successful people on and something that has jumped out at me is that they (Lance included) all specifically talked about their love of being the underdog, a bit of a hustler, a game-changer. So much so, that when they reach the pinnacle, they are already on to the next thing. This is a bit on the extreme side of achievement, but, point being, we need to be knocked on our ass from time to time in order to learn humility and to excel in work, life, family, etc. Young girls, in particular, can’t be handled with special gloves and this is what I was referring to with my parents earlier. I was given challenges or better yet, the freedom to explore (and mess up) and was expected to learn from my mistakes which would undoubtedly happen. In short, we were raised more as “people” than what social norms define as “girls.”

Our mentors, colleagues and friends are genderless

Since I started working full time in 2003, every single manager has been a man. This is equal parts sad and equal parts helpful. On the flipside, most of my coaches and pre-career bosses were women. I’ve learned something from every single one of them. Every one. My closest friends and colleagues are virtually 50:50. I see this again and again with other empowered women. I think this is so important because we have skills and emotions to learn from each other. I struggle to connect with men and women who are too far out there on the spectrum of society’s pre-defined gender roles. Unfortunately, and I may get blasted for this, I think these are the people, both men and women, who are hurting women’s rights and the fight for equality.

So, what do you think? I know I’m missing some great elements to what creates a strong woman — or any great person, really. I’d love to continue to curate this so I can begin to share it more. I am speaking at DisruptHR Madison in June and maybe I’ll use this topic. But this still begs the first part of the question…where ARE the women at (in male-dominated industries)? Are there solutions or barriers to consider? What about all the women who aren’t “like me,” but have incredible gifts to offer? I think I sense a second piece coming on…