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Gender Shouldn't Matter, So Why Do We Keep Talking About It?

We should just focus on doing whatever the hell we want.

06/06/2016 5:29 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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Does our gender define our career, or do we?

I have a confession to make. I can't stand women's meetings and groups.

Don't get me wrong, gender bias does exist in some workplaces, and I am all for women's rights and empowering women to be stronger and to be heard. I know how important women's leadership is and much emphasis can be placed on gender in the workplace. I'm also acutely aware of the work that has been put into progressing equal rights and I would never intend to disrespect that. However, one thing that makes me feel extremely uncomfortable is the way in which the problem is often 'dealt' within these groups and meetings.

Why? Because they seem to miss the whole point that we are not defined by our gender.

Instead, I believe these groups are further segregating ourselves through our gender.

Having worked as a mechanical engineer in industries like oil and gas, mining and industry, building services and automotive production, I'm used to working in male-dominated industries. However, I've never found that my gender has inhibited my ability to learn, develop and build a career.

I have often found myself being invited to join organisational women's groups, being in the minority in these workplaces. I never joined as I honestly didn't see the point. I didn't see the need to highlight the fact that I was a woman. I just wanted to get on with the job at hand and interact with everyone in the organisation equally.

On reflection, perhaps this is because I come from a family of strong, independent women, and being a woman has never been seen as a consideration in any decision or situation I have faced.

When I was 21 years old, I said to my family: "I want to become an engineer." Their instant response was: "You'd be great at that".

With that amazing attitude around me it never occurred to me to not give things a go for any reason, let alone gender.

I underestimated how much this has allowed me to carve my path, but I have come to appreciate this more and more. The point is, my oblivion to this barrier meant that I didn't even realise it was a barrier and I never made it one.

I have come to realise that not everyone is as fortunate as me, and there are constantly messages around us pointing out why women are different (often with good intentions). But be careful listening to these, because what you focus on grows. Instead, make a conscious choice not to segregate yourself through gender. There are barriers in every aspect of life -- don't let your gender be one of them.

So if you perhaps didn't have the blissful ignorance that I did, and want to forge a successful career, especially in a male-dominated environment, here are some tips on how I've done it that might help you.

Be solutions orientated

As a trained engineer, my brain likes to be able to go into 'fix-it' mode before I even know there is a problem. Sometimes when we've been in a workplace for a long time we get used to the status quo, we think we can't change anything and can become despondent and start to blame others for our misery.

Playing the victim will get you nowhere, so pick yourself up, dust yourself down and put a plan together to change your situation. Whether you set a couple of short and long-term goals to hit, sit down with your manager and have a candid chat about where you're at, find a mentor or plan your escape, at least you're taking your future into your own hands.

Be direct

I'm quite direct. In fact, some people are very surprised when I start talking. I've learnt to speak up, say what I think and be assertive. You don't get anywhere when you're trying to be subtle and it just wastes time. If you want a pay rise, ask for one. If you're not happy with the way you're being treated in the workplace, find someone you trust and find a solution.

When I was at Holden I asked for a promotion when I was just 22 and had been the in the job for a year. I presented my case, demonstrated to them that I was doing the job of a Senior Mechanical Engineer anyway and that I should be recognised for what I had achieved. They gave me the promotion and I became the youngest Senior Mechanical Engineer at Holden.

Surround yourself with people that inspire you

Did you know that you're the sum of the five people you spend the most time with? Look at the five closest people to you in your life and you'll soon work out that you earn the average of what they're earning. If you're want to become a manager, get a pay rise or be basically just killing it, join some groups and start to surround yourself with people who you admire and can help you get to where you want to be.

Just by spending more time with people who have similar dreams and ambitions can be a very powerful way of changing your mindset and increasingly the likelihood and speed at which you achieve your goals. If you can't get out to these people a lot, hanging with online buddies helps too.

Focus on your own personal strengths

It is so important to practise self-awareness and know what your strengths are, as they are the best part of yourself. We tend to put so much focus on trying to fix our flaws that we forget what actually makes us amazing. While it's good to be aware of your weaknesses, as it essentially helps you to be stronger, ensure you are putting more energy into making the best parts of yourself stand out and shine instead.

Dream big

Once you realise that the world is your own projection, you are free from all the limitations that are placed on you. Get rid of fear and get clear on where you see yourself in one year, five years, 10 years.

I've always had a clear vision of what my life would be like, though sometimes I've chosen different paths to get there. Taking a multitude of small steps towards my big dream and putting one foot in front of the other has led me to where I am now. I'm now dreaming even bigger. But remember, it only takes one step to start, and the first one is usually the hardest.

So, if you want to join that women's group, please don't let me stop you, just remember gender roles should not define you as a person. It is the defiance of the 'roles' that give you your own identity.

My advice: ignore the barriers and focus on doing whatever the hell you want... it's worked for me.

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