(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

OPINIONBusinessJuly 28, 2021

How to be a badass: A guide to thriving in male-dominated workplaces

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

Some of the world’s most exciting and lucrative industries are still largely dominated by men. Maddy King provides some effective ways to help newbies flourish and shine like true badasses. 

Working with creative technologies like filmmaking, animation and digital art means entering the most exciting, dynamic sectors in the world. These are places where you can create anything in your imagination; build entire worlds that change people, blow their minds and make a better future. It also means working in places that are mostly populated by men at the moment. This can create a particular set of challenges.

In situations of oppression, the burden is always on the oppressor to change their behaviour. But in lieu of men stepping up and making these workplaces safer and more inclusive so that everyone else can flourish, the rest of us have been having whispered conversations on coffee breaks and in doorways before someone else walks past. After a decade working in tech, I’d like to share what I’ve learned: a specific set of skills for being a badass in the world’s best industries, and to help other people thrive inside them.

1. Never let yourself be interrupted

Everyone has had this experience. Usually when someone interrupts you it’s harmless and unintended. But as badasses, we have to stake the claim that our voice is valuable, that it has merit, and that it always deserves to be heard. Always. Because things that do not intend to cause harm can still cause harm down the line, and the unfortunate pattern is that women and some non-binary folk are more likely to be interrupted than anyone else. And we can not allow that to happen.

2. Don’t apologise

If you’ve done something wrong, apologising is always the right thing to do. But in every other instance, we need to stop training ourselves to apologise all the time. We are taught this is polite, but it invites other people to stop taking responsibility for themselves. As badasses, we need to value the word “sorry” and only use it when it is powerful – when we have genuinely made a mistake. The rest of the time, we need to stop giving other people permission to assign blame to us. We need to delete “sorry” from our reflexes.

3. Learn to code 

If anyone has ever told you that you won’t be good at coding because of the way your brain works, or because you’re more of a words person, or a creative, I am here to tell you this is bullshit. There are lots of ways that society tells us that technology is more for boys. They are subtle and we don’t always catch them. But coding is the most creative skill you can have, and a powerful tool set for creating widespread social impact. If you want to change the world, be a badass, and learn to code. Or learn any new thing that scares you. Leaning into new areas opens up your world infinitely. Be a badass and do it.

Learn to code (Photo: Getty Images)

4. Practise your no

We are taught to cushion our “no” so that it has less impact. As badasses, the number one superpower we can practise is just simply saying no. Not, “no, sorry”, or “maybe next time”, or “I just don’t feel like one today”. All you need is no. 

Once you’ve said no, never go back on it. Don’t show people that you can be convinced to change your mind. Show respect to your no by sticking to it, by teaching the world your no is unbreakable. You are entitled to say no to anything, at any time, without giving a reason. This can change your life. 

5. Claim your power

This refers to situations in which someone calls you cute. Or adorable. Or comments on your tiny hands or tiny feet. These words can sometimes feel nice, but they can also be used to deliberately disempower women and some non-binary folks. In grammar, these are called diminutives. This literally means that they diminish the subject that is addressed. Cute, adorable, tiny people don’t get to drive heavy machinery, or make multi-billion dollar business decisions. So those terms can no longer apply to us. We need to stop giving people permission to shrink us down.

6. Support other underestimated people

The number one sign that you need to step up your badassery is when other people are being targeted. This might be an underestimated person who receives a higher level of criticism than others; who is consistently asked where they have been, where their work is, why they are late, or receives comments on their clothes or appearance. Practise identifying poor behaviour when you are not at the centre of it, and speak up to help. Together we are unstoppable.

7. Back yourself

We are often trained not to blow our own trumpets, but vocalising your own skill and value is an absolutely essential skill in a male-dominated industry. People won’t necessarily intuit your skillset without you telling them. If anything the tendency may be for them to assume your skills are low-level. Prove to yourself that you know what you are doing and can answer your own questions, and think about how your unique attributes can be framed as strengths. Being emotional or sensitive are good examples. While these terms are often used against us, my empathy with students and clients undoubtedly makes me a better teacher and programmer. Be supportive of other underestimated people when they doubt themselves, and practise testifying to your experience out loud. 

Mansplaining (Photo: Getty Images)

8. Take up space

We are encouraged to put our needs last. In New Zealand we are socialised to be first to make tea and last to sit down and drink it. First to get up and do the dishes and last to eat dessert. The ones who take up less legroom on public transport so other people can spread out, or to sit in the middle seat in a full car so everyone else has room. But we take up space, and we are entitled to take up space. This also applies to sharing our ideas in a group situation, fighting to be heard, and putting our needs first. People can expect us to shrink and be silent, in the same way they expect us to reduce our physical space for others. Taking up space also means having the courage to speak up, loudly and repetitively, to get your point across. 

9. Only speak about yourself in positive terms

We’re trained to put ourselves down and diminish our light, insult ourselves and criticise our work. But when we put ourselves down we invite others to do the same thing – we give them permission to think lowly of us. In the workplace, we may already be at the disadvantage of having people think we are less skilled than we are. This serves no one, it is not polite or humble, and only leads us to further criticise our own performance. It just lets people get away with assuming the least of us. This is why we must only ever speak about ourselves positively. Share what you love about yourself with people. Share what you are proud of. And if someone compliments your work, the only acceptable response is: “Thank you”. 

10. Watch for red flags

Signs you need to bring out the Badass:

  • Being interrupted / talked over
  • Belittling language
  • Other people being mistreated
  • Assuming you’re better suited to minor roles
  • Being undermined
  • A higher level of criticism
  • Patronising language/mansplaining
  • People saying things they wouldn’t say to a man
  • Finding you’re doing more of the “other jobs” than anyone else
Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox