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How I Made It In A 'Man's' Field: 5 High-Powered Women Tell All

By Erin Scottberg via Forbes |  6/20/2013


We’re all too familiar with the stats showcasing the uneven gender divide in the business world.

For instance, only 20 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women hold only 14% of executive positions, and just 16% of board seats. Women earn $0.77 for every dollar earned by men.

But with all the discussions about how to get more women in the upper echelons of the business world (thanks, Ms. Sandberg!), we wanted to hear some real-life stories of leaning in.

We spoke with five all-star women who have succeeded in traditionally male-dominated industries to hear their stories of climbing the mountain—and maybe glean some advice from how they made it to the top.

The Engineer

Karen Purcell, 45

Title: President of PK Electrical

Location: Reno, Nevada
Degrees: BSEE, Electrical Engineering, Widener University

Why I Chose This Field: Growing up, I always liked math and science, but I hadn’t thought about a career in engineering until my high school physics teacher suggested I consider it. At the time, I wasn’t even really sure what an engineer did. When I asked that question, his response was simple: “Well, they can do anything.”

I made it my major and fell in love with engineering from day one. I’m now the president of PK Electrical, an electrical engineering, design and consulting firm—and the author of “Unlocking Your Brilliance,” which explores the hurdles women face in the male-dominated STEM fields and offers pragmatic strategies to overcome them.

RELATED: 9 Ways You’re Being Too Nice at Work

Biggest Hurdle in My Career: When I first started going to job sites, out there with the contractors, everyone assumed I was the assistant—not the engineer.  But once I opened my mouth, they realized, “Oh, she’s intelligent. She’s the engineer!” I felt like I always had to prove myself. It took about two years for people to believe in me. As a woman, you really have to go above and beyond to prove your value, while a lot of men just get that automatically. 

The Best Get-Ahead Tip I Have: One of my best pieces of advice to women is to ensure you’re being heard. Sometimes, when you’re sitting in a meeting or conference, the men can be very overpowering. You need to stand up and be vocal. This can take practice sometimes. Try joining activities where you can practice having a voice in a safe zone. Getting comfortable with your own voice will help give you professional confidence. Read more>>