Richa Bansal

Why Being the Only Woman in the Room Rocks

Being in Engineering and Oil & Gas, I have often been the only woman in the room. I would like to start my very first blog post by talking about why being the minority gender is great for your career.

My Journey

I grew up in India. Mine is a family of doctors, engineers and business owners, a family where everyone, regardless of their gender, pursues the education and occupation of their choice. I grew up believing that whatever my brother can do, I can do as well. Therefore, I was quite unprepared when the admissions counselor at my undergraduate school discouraged me from studying Mechanical Engineering, citing it was a male-dominated program. I totally brushed him off! Unfortunately, to my surprise, I soon learnt that I was the only woman in my class of 68. Not only that, the previous three consecutive years also had only one female student in the mechanical engineering program!

After having a bit of relief during my Masters program in the United States (a whooping 12% women in the program [1]), I got myself a job in the Oil and Gas industry, working as a field engineer on offshore oil-rigs. Many a time, I was again the only woman engineer on the rig (thanks to my company atleast there was one!). On one occasion, as I was travelling to the rig-site on a crew boat, I was even told to lock my doors since they had never had women onboard. After spending a scary night on the boat, I landed on a drill ship, where once again, I was the only woman in a crew of 125!

After having spent several years in technology now, I have come to realize that this trend is not going away anytime soon for me. Even though I work for a company that promotes women leadership as part of their corporate agenda, I constantly find myself as the only woman in the room!

Women by Numbers

Occupations considered as ‘Male-Dominated’ are the ones that comprise 25% or less women. Since I have chosen to pursue an occupation that is typically a non-traditional choice for women, every once in a while, I like to dig up statistics in hopes of determining if these fields are progressively becoming more female friendly. Below are some stats that I find intriguing:

  • In 2017, only 6.6% of women in the United States worked full-time in male-dominated occupations [2].
  • In the US, only 8.7% of all Architectural and Engineering Managers were women [3].
  • In the oil and gas industry, among entry-level positions requiring college degrees, women fill 50% of office and business support roles, compared to only 15% of technical and field roles [4].
  • The share of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies increased from 0% in 1995 to only 4.8% in 2018 [5].

So Is It Bad News If You Are the Only Woman in the Room?

Here are my top 5 reasons why being the only woman in the room in a male-dominated industry is great for your career:

1. You Stand Out From the Crowd

Who remembers John in his white shirt, red tie and blond hair as he sat across the table making the sales pitch? But everyone remembers Julia in the black dress, red heels and blond hair as she rocked the sales presentation. Embrace your personality and don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

2. Being Underestimated is Your Edge

It is common to be brushed-off as unknowledgeable during technical discussions or critical business decisions in non-female friendly professions. Use being underestimated as your edge, by simply being prepared and knowledgeable about your business.

3. Word of Your Expertise Travels Fast

Excel at what you do. If you become the subject matter expert, everyone in the organization will quickly know about you and the value you bring to the table.

4. People Listen When You Speak

Get a seat at the table. Listen more, speak less. When you speak, be loud, clear and confident. People will automatically listen and remember you.

5. You Are a Role Model

You have been rocking a career even with all the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry. Women in your company look up to you for mentorship and support, and you are key in tilting the stats more in favor of women in the future to come!

Key Takeaway

Having spent half of my life being the minority gender in the room, I have learnt that it is all about mindset! We can either complain about the daily struggles we face or we can use being the only woman in the room to our advantage. We can see the glass half empty or half full. All that’s needed is a change in perspective! After that, our thoughts are the only thing limiting us. 

What are some of the things we can do to improve the gender diversity ratio in male-dominated industries? I would love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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  2. United States Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau, “Traditional and Nontraditional Occupations.”
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 11. Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity,” Household Data Annual Averages 2017 (2018).
  4. Ariane Hegewisch and Emma Williams-Baron, Fact Sheet: The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation 2017 and by Race and Ethnicity (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2018).


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