It’s International Women’s Day – and since one day doesn’t come close to doing justice to the topic of female empowerment, let’s talk instead about what women can do to break into male-dominated arenas once and for all.
Natalie Gulbis, pro golfer, and Becky Hammon, the first female coach in the NBA, are towering examples of women who have achieved prominence in male-dominated sports. Here are 5 things they learned in their journey.
Know when to share your opinion, and know when to listen.
Men aren’t afraid to speak up about what’s on their minds, and women shouldn’t be afraid either. Women tend to hold back, thinking that they’ll only submit their opinion once they’ve weighed all the issues at hand. But the truth is that when women defer registering their opinion to a later date, they often miss their opportunity. On the flip side, it’s easy to overcorrect and overshare. The key is to not be afraid of speaking up – even instinctually at times – while knowing when to listen.
Becky Hammon talks about how she learned this lesson as she transitioned into working with a team of all men. “It put the onus on me to listen and observe what it’s like to coach in the NBA. I have a lot to impart and teach to any gender, male or female, as I have been in and around the game of basketball my entire life. It’s important to have a voice on this team, to speak up and do my part as an NBA coach, but I also know when to observe and listen. Choosing your moments is a key factor, and so is making sure what you say is important and will help the players and the coaching staff.”
Turn adversity in your favor.
Every person – male or female – who has ever done something radical was coming from a position of adversity. Think about it. Any innovator has pushed against convention and made it past. So instead of focusing on the roadblocks thrown on the road ahead, try to see them as an exciting challenge.
Gulbis laughs about how historically golf has been a good ol’ boys club, and how the saying is that “golf” stands for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.” But she says: “I love the challenge of being a woman in a male dominated sport. It’s exciting to have a chance to shatter glass ceilings and break barriers. I truly believe that today’s generation of female athletes will break every remaining barrier.”
Hammon credits being an underdog her whole life for honing the personal attributes that have made her successful. “I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and I wasn’t drafted into the WNBA. There was always adversity for me as a player, but I think I got to the point where I had gotten back up so many times that I didn’t believe anything or anyone could hold me back. . . . So I believe my whole life has actually been preparing me for where I am right now. I wouldn’t change any obstacle in my journey. They built resiliency in me and taught me to be tough mentally and physically for any challenge.”
Be true to your natural way of doing things.
There’s no need to deny your female vantage point or try to shove yourself into a male approach to what you do. Be yourself unapologetically, without deconstructing whether it’s the way a man would go about things if he were in your position. Believe in the direction you’re going, and let the positive outcome speak for itself. When you stand behind your way of doing things and people see that it’s effective, they will get onboard.
For Gulbis, there was a message of female power from an early age. “When I was young, I was told by many in the community to hide my femininity and be an athlete first. ‘Don’t wear makeup, ribbons, or jewelry when you play,’ they’d tell me. Thankfully, my parents didn’t force those self-limiting beliefs on me. Instead, they encouraged me to embrace my femininity and kick ass.”
Hammon taps into what she always knew she needed as an athlete: “Athletes want to be coached.” She says “I believe solid leadership qualities work across all genders, races, orientations, or whatever differences people want to name.” And for Hammon, that clarity that at the end of the day – that athletes want one thing: great coaching – reminds her that it’s not about being male or female – it’s about leading her team effectively.
Leverage the wins of trailblazers before you, then keep blazing ahead.
Both Gulbis and Hammon owe a lot of their own success as female athletes to the United States Congress of 1972 that passed title IX. Gulbis says “I saw firsthand that I would have an opportunity to get a college scholarship as a female athlete.”
Gulbis has come up against other challenges in a male-dominated sport, though, including golf clubs that don’t allow women. But she focused on the trailblazers: “Major barriers in the game were broken when Condoleezza Rice was awarded the first female membership to Augusta National Golf Club.”
But she doesn’t stop there: “The week after winning my first tournament in 2007, I was part of an historical moment for women at the birthplace of golf – Saint Andrews in Scotland. I was among the first women to be allowed into the clubhouse and locker room for the first time. It was one of the single greatest moments of my life as a female athlete.”
Both Gulbis and Hammon have benefited from trailblazers who came before them – and both are certainly helping girls who come after them have far more opportunities than they ever had.
Bring your best game.
There’s a much bandied-about saying that women have to work twice as hard to get half as far. And there’s some truth to that. Gulbis has felt it at times: “As a woman in sports, I’ve always felt like I’ve had to be twice as good as the men who were fighting for the same sponsorship deals. We have come a very long way in the 17 years I’ve been on tour; but still in some of my endeavors today, I face the same challenge I did years ago where women are not looked at in the same light as men for certain roles.”
But that can be a crippling way to think. Instead, assume that your competency is not in question, and focus on doing your very best work. Be prepared – and bring your best game.
These 5 tips from Becky Hammon and Natalie Gulbis aren’t limited to the sports arenas – or male dominated fields for that matter. Think about how the lessons they’ve learned on their path to success can apply to your career or any place where you find yourself pushing up against ceilings – glass or otherwise. And don’t forget to mine the wisdom of women at your own company. Here’s some of the valuable advice we dug up at ours: Secrets of Sisterhood: Glassdoor Women On Their Best Career Advice