It's no secret that women are underrepresented across a multitude of industries — and that, too often, their career successes are compromised as a result.
The gender ratio only widens atop the corporate ladder. In 2018, women made up 48 percent of entry-level employees (still under half), but only 38 percent of managers, 34 percent of senior managers or directors, 29 percent of vice presidents, 23 percent of senior vice presidents and just 22 percent of C-suite executives, according to the 2018 Women in the Workplace report released by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org.
That said, a gamut of research suggests that, when women work both alongside and under other women, they're far more successful in forging their ways into these higher-up positions. That's largely because they have greater access to growth opportunities with more advocates and mentors who, unlike many male leaders in the post-Me Too era, aren't afraid to spend one-on-one time with them to help guide their careers. Beyond that, women simply tend to hire and promote other women.
In fact, a study of Standard & Poor’s 1,500 companies over 20 years found that, when a woman is made CEO, other women have more chances of joining the executive team, too. Another Catalyst study among high-potential leaders involved in mentoring shows that women were mentored by 73 percent of the female leaders but only 30 percent of the male leaders. And, even when women have stronger qualifications than their male counterparts, they're less likely to be mentored — unless there’s already a woman on the corporate board. Mentors are hugely critical to one's success, especially as 33 percent of women (and 41 percent of black women), compared to just 27 percent of men have never had a "substantive interaction with a senior leader," according to the aforementioned Women in the Workplace report.
Working with and for other women is clearly beneficial for women's representation and success in the workplace. And not having these female relationships in the workplace can hurt for reasons beyond the lack of development opportunities. About a fifth of women studied for the Women in Workplace report had reported that they’re frequently the only woman (or one of the only women) in their jobs; this number jumps to about 40 percent for women in senior leadership and technical roles. (In comparison, only seven percent of men reported being "the only" in their workplaces.) And the report suggests that, when women are the only females or among the very few females in their offices, they're more likely to be subjected to microaggressions than women who work with other women, men who work in mixed settings and men who are outnumbered by women.
That's perhaps why Stephanie, a software developer and Fairygodboss community member, posted a question on the community discussion board that reads, "Would you take a job where you're the only woman?" It's a fair question given the research that backs up the benefits of having female colleagues and higher-ups — and the potential pitfalls of not having these other women around.
Here's what five women chimed in to say in response to why they would or wouldn't take a job in which they've no female counterparts.
1. Yes: Being the only woman can be the change a company needs.
"Your voice might be incredibly impactful depending on if the company is trying to make a change to be diverse," writes Olivia Oz. "Change starts with one, and you could be that person, depending on the company's motives."
In other words, if the company is looking to diversify but simply hasn't yet, you can help to kickstart their efforts.
Some women who've been the change their companies needed have also chimed in on the conversation.
"I work at an IT company — at the time I was hired, I was the only female in the service department," says Chelsee Brunson. "Now I am a lead in my department, my second in line is female, and we've grown to having almost 25 percent female employees within the company. You can pass up a company that is not actively showing evidence of change, or you can go in and be the start of the change."
Other women argue that refusing the role of the change you wish to see only perpetuates the problem.
"I have almost always been the first woman on the team — sometimes it stays that way for years, and sometimes it encourages other women to apply to join us," says Katie Ann. "Being afraid only perpetuates the stigma."
2. No: An unequal gender ratio is a red flag.
"By the time a company gets to six or eight men, they should realize they had a diversity problem," writes an anonymous member. "If they've gotten to 10 before they figure that out, that's a problem. Either it's not a priority for them or they're doing a poor job of it."
While this member says that an all-male team is not a "100 percent dealbreaker," she does call it "a big red flag."
3. Yes: Sometimes the best (or only) jobs available happen to be male-dominated jobs.
"I'm an engineer, and I work in maintenance; if I didn't take the jobs where I was the only woman, I'd never find work!" says a contributor under the name Galros.
That said, she has indeed walked away from jobs because "the feel of the team was not inclusive" or because she "knew from the brief interactions [she] had that there would be issues because [she is] a woman."
"I've learned over the years not to ignore those feelings, as they're usually right," she goes on. "So, see if you can meet more of the team than just the hiring manager, see what sort of vibe you're getting off them, and make the decision from there... Hard and fast rules, particularly for areas where women are very much in the minority, don't work well — but trusting your instincts does!"
Another anonymous user says that she's also had to take male-dominated jobs.
"That's been most of my career — I'd be unemployed if I didn't take the job," she agrees.
4. No: Working with only men requires inauthenticity.
"I've been the only woman too many times, and I don't want to do it again," writes Cindy. "If the system/culture of that organization has resulted in a team of all men, then it's a system/culture that will hire and reward men much more easily than women. To succeed you may have to be inauthentic, as so many of us are expected to do every day."
Cindy isn't the only one who feels this way. Stephanie, who asked the original question, worries about the culture of those organizations, as well.
"If no other women have been willing to stay, there's probably a reason," she writes in response to a post. "And I'm to the point in my life in which I'm unwilling to be disrespected at work every day, [and I'm unwilling to] spend my energies training [colleagues] to be better humans instead of doing my job."
5. Yes: Passion takes precedence.
"I would!" writes Aathira Balachandran. "If I'm really passionate about it, the sex of the worker will not matter. Because that's an injustice I'd be doing to myself."
Not taking a job about which you're passionate can feel like a bigger mistake than giving it a shot and realizing it's not for you.
Rebecca W. agrees: "If this is a job you think you'll enjoy and you're passionate about the work, don't worry about the co-workers! One of my favorite jobs I've ever had was at a predominantly male startup... I made sure they respected me for who I am (including being a woman) and it was never an issue."
6. No: It's better to be comfortable.
"This may be a bit of devil's advocate but, when I see a team of all men, I do not assume it's because they're not willing to hire and work with women, but because women are not willing to work with them — cycle perpetuated," says a contributor under the name of CNDavidson.
She goes on to say that she doesn't mind working with men, as she's worked in mostly male-dominated environments throughout the course of her career.
"The same way I wouldn't like hearing a guy say there's no way he'd work with a bunch of women because (insert stereotypes here), I wouldn't say or think the same of men," she explains. "I want to be respected as a member of a team because of what I bring to the table, not my gender or what I look like or whatever, and I offer that same respect to others."
That said, she also suggests that if the lack of women at the company is really bothersome, you "definitely" shouldn't take the job.
"Your discomfort of working with men will affect your vibe with the team," she says. "It's better to be in a place where you can rock it and be at your best."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.