Dominate in a Male Dominated Business

shelleyrow Let’s face it, the A/E/C marketing industry is female dominated. But the A/E/C industry itself is extremely male dominated. This creates a situation where women are working for and with a lot of men. That’s got to be a challenge.

But luckily there are a few organizations in our industry encouraging and supporting the advancement of women in the A/E/C industry.

Enter Shelley Row

I recently volunteered at the Women’s Transportation Seminar Annual Conference. I helped out with a session conducted by Shelley Row, P.E., PTOE, MBA.

Shelley served as the Director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office where she managed a staff of highly-skilled, technical professionals and a $110 million annual budget.

This lady does not mess around. Her advice on how women can get noticed in a male-dominated workplace was so good, so extremely strategic, that I thought my entire audience could benefit from it.

Here’s a few examples of Shelley’s advice:

Sit in the Middle of the Table

This was an odd piece of advice that I had never heard before.

Don’t sit at the head of the table. Sit in the middle. Apparently, it gives you more access to the discussion.

Show Up and Speak Up

You need to be prepared for every meeting. You need to know what the meeting is about, have done the necessary homework, and speak up every chance you get.

Have a Sentence Ready for Every Meeting

On a related note, Shelley said you need to contribute to every meeting. Before you walk into a meeting, you need to have a sentence ready. Your sentence is the point or idea you want to get across.

Reflect What People Say

This is a good tactic that I certainly use.

People need to know they are being heard, even if what they are saying is batsh*t crazy. Shelley suggests you use phrases like:

“What I’m hearing is…”


“Let me make sure I understand what you are saying…”

Before you make your counter point, reflect what the other person is saying.

Anticipate Everything

This next one isn’t easy, but most things that are worthwhile rarely are.

Shelley said it was important to anticipate and be ready for what was coming down the road.

A good example she gave was when she knew her boss was going to ask for the budget in six months. She would ask, “What do we need to do today so that budget will be ready when they ask for it?”

Shelley said anticipating makes all the difference, and I believe it.

Read Industry News, Even When You Don’t Have Time

It’s really hard to keep up with all the industry news, especially when you’ve got more to do than you can handle.

Shelley says make it a priority. Know the industry news, even when you “don’t have time” to read it. Make time.

Give Out Hand Written Notes

My handwriting s*cks. You’ll never see a handwritten note from me. But I think Shelley would see that as a tragic flaw. She sees handwritten notes (for thank you, congrats, etc.) as the secret weapon for career dominance.

I have to say, Shelley was impressive and every woman in that audience gained valuable insight.

Key Takeaway: Follow Shelley Row’s advice to dominate in a male dominated workplace.

If you liked this article, please subscribe below or on the right side of the homepage. If you want to give us your thoughts on this issue, please leave a comment below.


  1. Jennifer Danforth says

    THANK YOU!!! This is such an neglected topic in our industry. I see so many talented, intelligent women who sell themselves short and never speak up during those meetings. Or start their remarks with “I’m sorry…” or another qualifier that undermines what they are saying. As women we need to remember we bring a different viewpoint and skill set to our companies. If we are at the table in a meeting, the organizer is expecting us to participate.

    • Matt Handal says


      I’m glad you found this useful. I realize that a majority of my audience is female (because most of the marketers in our industry are female). Yet, their bosses are often male.

      If you get a chance to see Shelley, even if you aren’t in the transportation market, I suggest you do so.


  2. Enjoyed this topic, Matt! 90% of my office is male and I think it took a year and a half to be seen as a competitive resource in my office and at meetings. Asserting myself in meetings is something I continually work on.

    Thanks for the post and would love to meet Shelley someday. Does this count as an entry to your “give-away” too?


    • Matt Handal says


      I’m glad you liked it. And yes, this qualifies you for the June book giveaway. See how easy that was?

  3. Matt – thanks so much for including this information! I definitely try to bring “value” to every meeting that I sit in on. Yes, this is a male-dominated industry, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – more and more, the marketers’ voices are being heard by all.

  4. Jana Brickey says

    This is good advice for anyone, not just women. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Matt

    Thank you for the post and passing on this valuable information. Great tips and very easy to implement.

  6. Elizabeth says

    I like the thought behind sitting at the middle of the table, but is there any science behind that theory? Without the science it seems the arguments for and against each seat could start sounding like Vizzini in the “Battle of Wits” scene from The Princess Bride.

    • Matt Handal says


      I acknowledge it’s not science based. We like science-based around here. But here’s how you find out…you test it.

      • Jennifer Danforth says

        I’m not sure about science, but if you look at pictures of presidents (current and past)taken during cabinet meetings, the president is usually shown at a seat in the middle of the table. Again not science based, but an interesting aside.

  7. Michaela G says

    Thank you for sharing this information! I work for a small firm owned by five men. I can easily incorporate Shelley’s recommendations without appearing like I am questioning the status quo. Thank you.

  8. There are great tips here for anyone trying to step in and up at a firm. I tend to think about the struggle as more of a technical vs. non-technical. Male or Female it is still rare to find a non-technical team member at a top firm position. When you do see them, they are as all board roams predominantly male – that is true of all industries. That said, marketing has elevated in firm status for sure. Not knocking how far it has come.

  9. Matt, Once again you have provided us with such great advice! I am going to forward your email to every woman I know. Thank you, Lindsay

    • Matt Handal says

      Thank you Lindsay,

      I still plan to do a post about your recent stuff. It’s in the pile of half written posts. 🙂

  10. Nice work Matt, you put out some great work. See you Thursday night at the SMPS event. Dan Caldwell

Speak Your Mind