Breaking the Glass Humidor: Female Entrepreneurship in a Male-Dominated Industry
Despite there being steps in the right direction, women still face an uphill struggle in terms of proving themselves in industries that are disproportionately male.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
By Rachel Mendler, chief administrative officer of The Veloz Group and Beverly Hills Chairs and President of Custom Tobacco.
Today's business climate is slowly transitioning from being male-dominated to embracing equality. But despite there being steps in the right direction, women still face an uphill struggle in terms of proving themselves in industries that are disproportionately male. As a highly driven female entrepreneur, I understand these difficulties. But rather than being discouraged by the imbalance, I try to use the disparity as motivation to achieve greatness.
I have had to elevate myself considerably to gain recognition in my industry: the cigar businesses. Education has been critical to my success, which is why as a new mom to a little girl, I've prioritized instilling confidence in my daughter, encouraging the concept that she can achieve anything she desires in life, just as my parents taught me. This level of encouragement from a young age has the potential to work wonders for her self-esteem, narrowing the perceived gap between her male counterparts.
Custom Tobacco is a family business. I work with my two older brothers who have always pushed me to succeed and constantly make it a point to encourage me to be a leader. When I first began working for them, I remember finding myself in an environment where I doubted my ability to complete tasks, make business decisions and get on the phone with others in the industry. Though this was a difficult hurdle to overcome, my brothers' encouragement and my own self-belief ultimately guided me and pushed me through.
It's important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and in your abilities. There are countless examples of women who have managed to triumphantly navigate through male-dominated landscapes, and though it sounds cliche, these stories should serve as inspiration that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
Women often possess a lack of confidence due to entrenched and outdated societal norms. So if you find yourself in a less supportive environment I'd say this: Your position is just that -- it's your position. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Focus your energy and self-reflection to really understand why the job belongs to you and not to someone else. Use this newfound self-confidence to push forward and prove your adversaries wrong.
Over time I've learned to use my power as a female to my advantage. While I constantly have to prove myself to my male counterparts in the cigar business, they are always pleasantly surprised when they discover that I am actually knowledgeable. Additionally, and surprisingly to most, a significant portion of our customers are female, so I can relate to them as another female navigating the industry. I, too, am a wife buying a gift for my husband, a sister buying a gift for my brother, a working woman, planning social events for our company.
We are entering a new age in business where, as females, there are opportunities to thrive if you adopt the correct mindset. With everything considered, men may win the occasional battle when you feel outnumbered, but with a positive mindset, we can win the war. If you ever feel defeated in business, remember you're only defeated if you think you are, and there is only a figurative difference between men and women if we acknowledge it. This all-encompassing perspective is a critical step toward winning the war on the sexism stereotype in business, and the gap will undoubtedly dissipate as we advance collectively as human beings.
There's a portrait of Billie Holiday hanging on the wall of my living room. From the time my daughter was born, we'd put her down for naps in front of that portrait. It wasn't intentional; it was convenient. She began to develop a fascination with the portrait and to this day, every time she sees it, she smiles and coos. I call this a happy accident. Billie Holiday was a strong and innovative force in a time when women did not have many opportunities to get ahead. What a pleasure knowing that my daughter is getting this message at such a young age.