Feelings of Isolation and Inadequacy

Feelings of Isolation and Inadequacy are Real for Women in Male Dominated Occupations

Feelings of inadequacy and isolation are very real for women working in traditionally male dominated sectors. In honour of International Women’s Day where this year’s theme was #ChoosetoChallenge it’s important that we all challenge the status quo by ensuring everyone is seen, heard and acknowledged.

Feelings of isolation, inadequacy and disconnect certainly are more of a reflection of gender disparity and equity and what begins with ‘pinkification’. Pinkification starts young. We offer our daughters costumes of Elsa from Frozen for Halloween yet little boys are firefighters and superheroes.

When we go to university, particularly in male dominated fields such as engineering, construction, and software development university can be feel quite isolating. Fast forward to the workplace, particularly if many men work in the department and there’s a perception of an ‘old boys club’ isolation, sadly, can lead to a departure from the position, or the department or even the field. It’s a vicious cycle. Though women have come quite far in decreasing the gender wage gap the fact that International Women’s Day in and of itself still exists is quite telling.

I had the wonderful pleasure of speaking at a number of IWD events throughout the country. Women’s events are one of my favourites to speak at as I’m a huge proponent of women’s empowerment. Most of these events offered a follow-up survey. I was beyond thrilled to receive fantastic feedback all around as a speaker. With virtual events on the rise it’s so important to survey attendees as the virtual space is so different than the live space.

A distinct observation I noticed across the board were statements such as the following:

  • Women and BIPOC need to be represented more at the leadership and board level
  • It’s senior management that needs to be at these training events yet their absence is telling- they approve the event yet they are not present to support the cause
  • What can women do, for ourselves and each other, to ensure we receive the recognition we deserve

What needs to change is the culture of the workplaces. Diversity and inclusion cannot work independently of one another. An organization can be quite diverse when it comes to gender and/or ethnic diversity yet if inclusion is not part of the equation it truly does not matter how diverse an organization is. Period.

Yet, there are a few strategies that women can take to ensure we are seen, heard and acknowledged. Of course, some inward refection is needed as these strategies will not apply to all women. Hence, self-discovery work is always needed to understand the lens that we view our world.

A few strategies include:

Join a Mastermind

Masterminds are small groups of individuals that come together to share ideas, thoughts, and problems. Essentially a mastermind is a group that comes together to offer support. Masterminds do not need to be groups of the same gender or occupation, in fact, many are not. The key to a mastermind is to recognize that we are not alone nor work in isolation. We choose to.

I belong to a mastermind with three other women- all of which are professional speakers. Technically, we are competitors yet I look at them as confidants and collaborators, and quite frankly, very dear friends. We come together every second month sometimes with an agenda to discuss; sometimes for a glass of wine. Though we certainly have some commonalities we are very unique which brings a fresh and honest perspective to problem-solving. Most importantly, I have a built in support system which was imperative to me given I work for myself which can be in and of itself very isolating in nature.

Affinity Groups

An affinity group is very similar to a mastermind group but the difference is that an affinity group is based on a common goal. These can exist at the workplace; through associations; in your neighbourhoods. For example, I belong to the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and many affinity groups exist within the association depending on the common goal. For example, one of the groups focuses on training modules and discussing each module. It can be that simple yet when we have a common goal to work towards it adds accountability and support into the equation.

Join a Board

There are so many benefits to joining a board. I always recommend that anyone wishing to develop their capacity should join a board, particularly if you are looking to advance your career. Sometimes we are not offered opportunities ‘on the job’ that increases our capacity and increases promotability yet by joining a board in a volunteer capacity it builds capacity and decreases feelings of isolation. Choose your involvement on boards wisely as some volunteer work can add more stress than paid work depending on the board members you are working with. However, some boards can be so fulfilling that you choose to stay on for years. I am the President of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (Calgary chapter) and this is my third term. In fact, I was Past-President for two years and came back as President again (like a fungus, I joke). To be frank, if the existing Board members did not exist I would not have come back. We are not only board members- we are dear friends. A psychologically safe environment exists where healthy debate not only occurs yet is encouraged by all. We have fun while getting ‘sh*t’ done! Being the President of a Board has helped me speak to leadership teams as the skillset is transferable.

I also recommend that if you are in a financial role at work ie. accounting, treasury, finance do not become the Treasurer of a Board. This would be the obvious position to take. Become the Marketing Director. Building your capacity in a role where there is not negative ramification is how we build our capacity and a growth mindset by trying something new. It will ensure our employability and promotability. I very much encourage this strategy for new immigrants and/or new Canadians as it’s a wonderful networking opportunity as well as capacity building strategy to gain work experience in Canada.


Upspeak is something that women are notorious of doing but not even aware they are guilty of it. This is where a woman would state something yet it sounds like she has ended on a question. The voice tilts up. This gives the perception that she is questioning what she has said which, in turn, now everyone questions what she has said. Stand firmly in your thoughts, convictions, ideas and words. End with a period or even an exclamation mark. Own it! Sometimes we won’t get the respect we deserve when speaking because it sounds like we are questioning our own statements.

Other statements that women are somewhat guilty of (yet, men certainly do this too but it’s not as prevalent) is to say, “I am just a …”. Fill in the blank. I am just an executive assistant. I am just a stay at home mother. Nobody is a ‘just a’. Own your worth and what you bring to the table in whatever capacity it is. I’m blessed to have an amazing virtual assistant. I would never define her as a ‘just a’. She’s an integral part of the success of my company. She’s also a stay at home Mom as she works from a home based office. Raising children is the most important job any of us has as we are literally shaping our future. No one is a ‘just a’.

Self Efficacy

The best way to deal with feelings of inadequacy is to perform well in other areas of your life. Are you currently training for something or even workout regularly? Do you establish professional and personal goals that you meet? When we perform well in some areas that assists us in performing well in other areas. Self efficacy can be very powerful as it builds confidence in our own behaviors. When we obtain self efficacy in one area and learn the behaviours that assisted us to achieve or attain something it not only builds confidence; it builds a belief in ourselves. Hence, feelings of inadequacy diminish as we embrace our “inner Dorothy’- we had it in us all along.

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Tina Varughese