Thriving As A Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry: Bolanle Williams-Olley of Mancini Duffy On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male Dominated Industry

An Interview With Ming Zhao

Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine

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Be intentional about taking risks. When I joined Mancini, I took a risk and created opportunities for me to grow. Be intentional about the companies you choose to work for to make your path smoother.

In the United States in 2022, fields such as Aircraft piloting, Agriculture, Architecture, Construction, Finance, and Information technology, are still male-dominated industries. For a woman who is working in a male-dominated environment, what exactly does it take to thrive and succeed? In this interview series we are talking to successful women who work in a Male-Dominated Industry who can share their stories and experiences about navigating work and life as a strong woman in a male-dominated industry.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Bolanle Williams-Olley.

Bolanle Williams-Olley is the CFO and co-owner of Mancini Duffy, a national design firm with a 100+-year-old history and tech-forward approach based in New York City, where she oversees the firm’s financial and operational performance. She is also the author of the best-selling Build Boldly: Chart your unique career path and lead with courage. She is married with two kids and obsessed with throwing fun, themed parties.

She is a highly rated and dynamic leader with over 15 years of experience in finance in the built industry. She has been a guest panelist for the American Institute of Architects’ Women’s Leadership Summit, National Organization of Minority Architects 47th Conference, and Mother Honestly Summit. In addition, Bolanle is passionate about service and is the founder of several impact organizations, including SheBuildsWaves, SheBuildsLives, REACH Nigeria, and SheBuildsMoney.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, with my mom, who was a single parent. Even though I was an only child, I was surrounded by many family and friends. I was fortunate to have had rich experiences and attended excellent schools. Eventually, I moved to the US when I was 17 for college.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

I landed in this industry by chance, although it was serendipitous in hindsight! In college, I saw a job posting for a junior project accountant at an architecture firm. I applied because, in high school, I took a technical drawing class and loved it, so I thought it might be interesting to pursue that further. The person that interviewed me also studied math in college, so we immediately hit it off because he understood the value I could bring from my studies. And the rest is history!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In 2018, I was promoted to CFO and I had just graduated with my 2nd master’s, which I started while I was six months pregnant. Having to navigate being a mom of 2 , moving into a new role and attending school was quite the juggling act, however it taught me how to be intentional about carving out focus nooks of time for each of my priorities and fueled me to work even more efficiently.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Curiosity.

Since joining the industry, I’ve always been curious because my background was not in architecture. I was always curious about the projects because that informed me to better understand what the numbers were telling me in all of my accounting roles.

Relationships.

Building relationships within the organization and outside of my company has been instrumental to my success. In terms of coming to Mancini, this opportunity arose from a relationship I built with a colleague at my first job. Building that relationship early on in my career opened the door for me to come to Mancini ten years later. I made an impression, allowing me to be remembered a decade later.

Boldness.

Being able to devise and share bold ideas has fueled my success. For example, my partners and I led our firm through the pandemic making bold, challenging decisions — boldness translates to taking giant leaps personally and professionally.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you help articulate a few of the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome being in a male-dominated industry?

Very early in my career, even though I was doing the same work as the men, I was unaware of a significant pay gap.

One of the hurdles I faced has been people underestimating me from a skillset perspective and putting me in a box for my capacity. They underestimated what I brought to the table. For example, when I joined Mancini, some of our vendors didn’t perceive me as qualified for the more significant title and role of Controller because I didn’t have a CPA background. It took time for people to value me for the position I was in at the time.

There have been many instances of me vocalizing my opinion, and then a male says the same thing; their words held more weight because they were coming from a male.

Can you share a few of the things you have done to gain acceptance among your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do? Can you share some stories or examples?

I wasn’t necessarily looking for acceptance. I was very particular in terms of value alignment before I joined Mancini. I knew I needed to be in an organization that would support my career journey and allow me to grow, learn, and have my voice heard.

I knew I belonged in the room, so whatever imposter syndrome or self-doubt I had, I worked through it to allow me to be in the room more confidently.

In terms of gaining acceptance, my female co-workers knew I would advocate for them. They could relate to me and knew they could be real around me. And not struggle per se. I used my voice and understood my worth.

It started with me ensuring that I work in an organization supporting me as a woman and my career. I understand that’s a privilege — that was a gamechanger — I was accepted when I walked the door. And I was supported when external clients or partners challenged me internally by the men within my organization who spoke up for me.

What do you think male-oriented organizations can do to enhance their recruiting efforts to attract more women?

1. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. When an organization takes an authentic look and sees it doesn’t have female diversity, it must identify it as an issue.

2. RECRUITMENT Make a conscious effort in your recruiting process to actively interview women. For example, if you’re hiring for five roles, you need to a lot a certain percentage of those for women. Then, if you have women on your team, you’re going to win!

3. VISIBILITY If you have women in your organizations, make them visible. Spotlight them on social, highlight their work on your website, and utilize them as faces of the brand from a press lens.

4. GO WHERE THE WOMEN ARE. Look to partner with organizations that focus on getting women placed in companies. For example, look for organizations and groups that support women in tech.

5. POLICIES. Company policies and benefits need to exist to support women who will work at the organization such as maternity leave are crucial so women feel supported. Policies around flexibility to support a healthy family dynamic.

Ok thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Know your worth! Know that you belong in the room. Minimize self-doubt.
  2. Find community and a network of supportive women. Seek out mentors and a community to help you succeed.
  3. Connect with male allies in your industry who are also open to changing the way a company operates. In my career, I have been fortunate to have men who have advocated for me.
  4. Don’t be afraid to bring visibility around the work you’re doing and highlight your successes. Advocate for yourself.
  5. Be intentional about taking risks. When I joined Mancini, I took a risk and created opportunities for me to grow. Be intentional about the companies you choose to work for to make your path smoother.

If you had a close woman friend who came to you with a choice of entering a field that is male-dominated or female-dominated, what would you advise her? Would you advise a woman friend to start a career in a field or industry that’s traditionally been mostly men? Can you explain what you mean?

It depends on what her career goal is for herself and which industry she chooses to start her career in. For example, if you always wanted to be an engineer, you’d likely have to get the necessary experience by working at a predominantly male company. Remember that your career path is a marathon, not a sprint. Use each job as an opportunity to learn and develop your knowledge and expertise. As you grow in your career, you can be more selective about your company choices to set your best foot forward.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Suneera Madani, Founder of Stax Payments, I have a girl crush on her!

https://www.instagram.com/suneeramadhani/

Sara Blakely of SPANX

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.