It’s not easy for women to break through in a male-dominated career, but two local women have proven it can be done.
Mitzi Autry and Cara Working shared their stories of the challenges they have faced as they’ve tried to work their way through the system. Between lack of respect — sometimes unintentional — and simply the mindset of old-school gender roles, women can have trouble advancing in their careers.
Many find they are the lone female in their office or have to prove their worth more than their male counterparts.
According to Catalyst.org, in 2017, only 6.6 percent of women in the United States worked full-time in male-dominated occupations — comprised of 25 percent or fewer women.
Autry and Working both managed to establish themselves in their respective fields, and they offer advice to other females on how to follow in their footsteps.
Autry, who owns Mitzi Autry’s Portable Toilets LLC, said working in a male-dominated field is no surprise to her since her parents raised her and her brother with the same expectations — to be a good person and a hard worker.
“I did the same chores as my brother and he did the same chores as me,” Autry said. “They didn’t treat me like a female or male, I was just a person.”
The fact that Autry’s parents never taught her limits is what made her believe she could do anything in life. Autry’s business consists of portable toilets, handwashing stations and holding tanks for RVs and campers. She does business in six counties between two states.
“It is very challenging being a woman in a man’s world,” Autry said. “It’s hard. I do work very hard, lifting and moving these toilets around. It’s very challenging, but I’m never bored.”
Autry is in charge the business as well as a staff of three — all of whom are men.
“I don’t think a lot of women believe in themselves,” she said. “We’re stronger than we think. I’m all about it being a woman business owner.”
In 2015, women held only 26 percent of computer and mathematical occupations and just 36 percent of high-tech occupations.
Cara Working is a manufacturing quality regulatory affairs specialist in the pharmaceutical industry. For the last 14 years she has made advancements in her career and paved the way for up and coming females.
Working, who consults on manufacturing and quality assurance of drugs, evaluates quality systems and does gap analysis before drugs can be released or manufactured for use.
“I work with the companies on how to correct the problems,” she said. “No one goes into quality to be popular. It’s really tough because, not only is it a male-dominated field, but most of the people you’re talking to are almost all men who have been there for years and years.”
She said through her years in the field and in the lab, there have been times where she has been delegated to go get coffee even though she was working on a project.
“It’s not like they did it on purpose; they just assumed that since I was a woman that I would be the one making coffee,” she said. “I don’t even know how to make coffee — I have a Keurig. It’s just a different mindset — they are not aware.”
While she has had to deal with some pushback throughout her career, Working said she has been lucky to have at least worked with some women – though not in leadership positions.
“We’ve come a long way in science, but there is still this bizarre attitude in a lot of places where women have to explain their education and what they know and why they deserve to be there,” she said. “It’s not just that women in science have pushback, it’s pretty women in science. They are not taken seriously. They have to prove they belong there, even after they have been hired.”
When she was applying for jobs, she only interviewed over the phone because she did not want to be judged on her appearance. But, even when talking on the phone, Working said she put a filter on her phone so her voice wouldn’t sound so high-pitched and child-like.
“My advice for women or girls is to not let people in the industry discourage you,” she said. “Science can be really overwhelming. If you start work in concentration and find you don’t like it, keep searching until you find a fit for you. It took three labs for me to find protein chemistry and now I absolutely love my job.”