Advice to my daughter – tomorrow is your first day

How to start in a male-dominated industry. What are the skills to have? What are the traps to avoid?

You just got your dream job. Congrats! After doing brilliant studies, you now have a beautiful diploma. Passionate about the industry, you applied for a job as a project engineer in a big company which isn’t really known for its diversity.

The interviews went well, and you didn’t even get the usual sexist or tricky questions (do you remember about that recruiter who’d asked your mom what her mom thought of this career choice?)

But here, no, not even a little question on your marital status or your desire to have kids in the future. So you feel good. At least, on the paper. Because in reality, you’re not quite there. Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow is your first day.

First question: How to dress?  Come on, we’ve all been there and we all know that it’s stressing you out. They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… But we all know that we only have one chance to make a good first impression, and that this impression is based, amongst other things, on your appearance.

I like this question because in the end, it’s not as complicated as it seems. You just have to take a step back and address it in a pragmatic way. You have to try and reproduce the codes that you identified during the interview (was the HR director wearing a tie? what was the style of the manager?), while simultaneously trying to keep it simple because you don’t want to seem arrogant on the first day. But the most important thing is to be comfortable, so it’s preferable to wear your lucky suit (you know, the one you wore for all your exam orals) than to wear a beautiful outfit that you’ve never worn and bought for the occasion. Yes, it’s so obvious that we forget. The priority is to focus on what you’re going to do and say on the first day, but it’ll be slightly challenging if you’re constantly fixing your cleavage or if your feet hurt.

What attitude?

The first day, you’ll listen.

Yes, I know, you can’t wait to show what you’re worth, you dream of finally using the hundreds of things you learned during the past five years of school, to prove that you’re brilliant. All in all, you know everything and you want the whole world to know.

Except that the team sees those “know-it-all young graduate” on a daily basis, valedictorians in school, but who have never faced the hard reality of real life. So, at best, they’ll welcome you with a shoulder shrug, and at worst, they’ll bet on how long it’ll take you to break your teeth, especially with a little help. But, either way, you’re not going to make friends. So take a deep breath, take a step back, do whatever it takes, but you need to remain patient.

And when you’ve been accepted by the team, even by Robert, the infamous Robert, who’s the encyclopedia of the company, but who didn’t get his high school diploma but made it through hard work and isn’t really known for being docile. And when even Robert has become your friend, then you can try suggesting a few ideas and adventuring yourself to contradict an opinion… Essentially, you’ll have reached a level of legitimacy that will finally let you use your neurons fully.

What are the traps to avoid?

How many times have you heard people say: “you need to be better than men?” I mean, not me, but others, the benevolent ones, the “full of good advice” ones, who have never experienced it.

So, then, it’s NO. There, a big and clear no.

You almost managed to piss me off!

Why no? (Deep breath…)

Because it’s typically the kind of trap that people set and have been setting to generations of women for decades, and it would be time to stop falling for it. If you’re desperately looking to prove that you’re better than others, then you’re acting with arrogance – which I don’t advise you to do. You look at me with a puzzled look… Yet it’s obvious: there’s a very fine line between wanting to prove that you’re better (than whom?) and coming off as arrogant. One of the collateral efforts of wanting to be the best is that you quickly develop a certain paranoia that prevents you from accepting outside help: “he’s trying to prove that I’m not good enough”. The first days in the company, you don’t know anyone, and it’s already quite complicated, so let’s not make it worse by isolating yourself just to defend a preconceived notion.

This trap is so big that I think most of us women have fallen in it. When I went to work on an oil platform, in the middle of the sea, in Nigeria, I felt so out of place that I tried to justify by any way that I had the required skills. As a result, I became very dislikable and my colleagues on the platform avoided me. Those same people who were originally excited to welcome me, a woman who was perhaps going to spark a bit of change in their daily lives, were soon disenchanted. I quickly found myself alone. Alone in a city where I couldn’t see my family or my friends, alone in a job where my colleagues were running away from me. It was a very difficult first step in my professional life. So please, do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes, and avoid being “too much”. You were hired because you have a strong set of skills, so focus on your field and stop trying to please others or to compare yourself to them.

After these few pieces of advice, all I can do now is wish you the best of luck – don’t forget, you’re starting a new chapter in your life, enjoy!

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