At one of my university’s career events, I met a recent graduate who was just starting her career in the field that interests me. I therefore sought out her advice for breaking into the business. Among the pieces of advice given to me, she emphasised that security was a man’s world and that my best means of succeeding was to play up the fact that I am a woman.
I was really troubled by the advice she gave me. On the one hand, not unreasonably, I believe that I should be taken seriously regardless of my gender. The things that I have to say regarding current affairs and international security should be judged independently of my gender. On the other hand, by not playing the “woman card”, I may be making things more difficult for myself because it is a male dominated industry.
Throughout the subsequent year, as I networked ruthlessly to acquire new contacts and break into the business, I often thought of the advice I was given. During networking events, despite the fact that I received more attention than my male counterparts, I was no better off. In every case, I felt that I needed to emphasise that I was at these events because of my knowledge, interests, and abilities and not just to be a pretty face.
So, am I playing the woman card? If so, can I stop? Probably not. I realised that I have to play the woman card to set myself apart from the pack and make the initial contact through my natural tendency to smile and laugh a lot. However, as the conversation progresses, I need to emphasise my capabilities as a manager, a project developer, and a security analyst to truly establish contacts with the kinds of people who could hire me in future. The industry will continue to be driven by men, making them the prime target of networking events. However, I need to make sure that things remain professional and not just a pleasant conversation over a glass of wine because hiring processes are ruthless and a pretty face will only get you so far. Establishing good contacts means balancing between being a woman and a young professional with something to offer.