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How Women Can Thrive in Male-Dominated Professions

Resilience prompts a workplace culture of respect and job satisfaction.

Key points

  • Even within male-dominated professions, women can survive and thrive.
  • Resilience can buffer the impact of workplace marginalization.
  • Activities such as humor, new routines, and reframing are linked with job satisfaction.

Modern women are increasingly entering a variety of traditionally male-dominated fields. From the military to law enforcement, truck driving to the coal mines, women are entering workplace settings where they remain the statistical minority. Yet, even within a culture of significant gender disparity, women can survive and thrive. Research explains.

Source: YasDO / Pixabay
Source: YasDO / Pixabay

The Male-Dominated Workplace and Marginalization

Women working in male-dominated workplace environments may experience marginalization, which can adversely affect both well-being and career prospects. Elizabeth Dorrance-Hall and Patricia Gettings (2023) examined the adverse relationship between marginalizing communication and career outcomes for women who work in male-dominated workplace settings.1 They note that women who work in male-dominated workplaces may experience marginalization as expressed through disapproval, communication of difference, or exclusion, all of which can adversely impact the course of their career. But there is a silver lining: Resilient communication can mitigate some of these negative effects.

The Rewards of Resilience

Acknowledging both structural and cultural constraints faced by women in careers that are traditionally male, Dorrance-Hall and Gettings focused their study on the impact of resilience processes as choices women can use to achieve career goals. Specifically, they sought to understand how resilience can buffer negative career outcomes for women resulting from the experience of workplace marginalization within male-dominated careers.

Studying responses from 229 women who experienced gender-based marginalization at work, they found that greater exposure to marginalization was linked with negative career outcomes. But they also found that increased engagement in activities involving resilience, such as humor, new routines, and reframing, were linked with positive career outcomes such as higher job satisfaction and lower intention to quit.

In explaining their findings, in connection with prior research, Dorrance-Hall and Gettings note that social identity theory explains the significance of belonging to a group, including a professional group such as a workplace. Accordingly, social group inclusion such as a workplace is associated with productivity, retention, and a feeling of well-being, while being on the margins of such groups can be painful and challenging. They note that the influence of social groups can impact a person’s sense of self by defining where he or she belongs in their social world. Individuals identify with groups to satisfy a need for belonging and derive a portion of their self-worth from the success and reputation of the group to which they belong. Consequently, group rejection can create a loss of identity, feelings of uncertainty, and emotional numbness.

Resilience Promotes Rapport and Respect

Dorrance-Hall and Gettings report that consistent with their predictions, increased resilience was linked with positive career outcomes in terms of job satisfaction and organizational fit. They note that resilience equips employees to better be able to handle workplace challenges and conflict while also maintaining or increasing job satisfaction. They note the opposite is true in the absence of resilience processes, which leads to less job satisfaction. They also note that although most resilience processes were positively linked with both job satisfaction and organizational fit, processes that emphasize some aspect of change, such as humor, reframing, or new routines, moderated the link between marginalization and positive outcomes.

Changes That Promote Inclusivity and Career Success

Recognizing that resilience processes linked with change appear to buffer the potentially harmful effects of marginalization on career outcomes, creative improvements can increase positive workplace experiences for everyone. Employers can take steps to promote a level playing field by re-examining job responsibilities and routines, increasing employee engagement through inclusive work-related events and celebrations, and emphasizing the power of positive communication, from the boardroom to the lunchroom. Mentoring programs can pair seasoned employees with new hires to create an inclusive onboarding process and cultivate ongoing relationships designed to encourage, inspire, and empower new employees.

Through inclusive, proactive policies promoting respect and resilience, employers can continue to attract talent notwithstanding workplace statistical gender disparity, which will boost morale and increase productivity. Implementing creative strategies and mutually beneficial goals will create a workplace where everyone can feel important and valued, allowing them not only to survive but also to thrive.


1. Dorrance-Hall, Elizabeth, and Patricia Gettings. 2023. “Resilience Processes Buffer the Negative Associations between Marginalizing Communication and Career Outcomes for Women in Male-Dominated Workplaces.” Journal of Applied Communication Research 51 (6): 640–661. doi:10.1080/00909882.2023.2178854.

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