In the United States in 2022, fields such as Aircraft piloting, Agriculture, Architecture, Construction, Finance, and Information technology, are still male-dominated industries. For a woman who is working in a male-dominated environment, what exactly does it take to thrive and succeed? In this interview series, we are talking to successful women who work in a Male-Dominated Industry who can share their stories and experiences about navigating work and life as strong women in a male-dominated industry. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Misha Bleymaier-Farrish.
Misha Bleymaier-Farrish provides a unique perspective cultivated through twenty years of experience in insurance, operations and technology. Misha has built and led sales teams from the ground up, consulted for some of the largest retail brands, guided organizations on their digital transformations, partnered with the world’s largest CRM organization for over a decade, and been head of technology while disrupting an insurance sector in the US.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Myparents exposed my sister and I to the likes of Zig Ziglar and Steven Covey at the ages of six or seven. They would take us to the old success seminars of the early 1990s. Your more seasoned readers may know the ones I’m talking about. We were the only children there. My mom, sister, and I were one of few women there. I got to hear Margaret Thatcher one year and at that young age sitting there in a sea of men in suits I was inspired by her poise, her articulation, her ability to captivate the audience and speak with authority.
At an early age, my parents were exposing me to learning through many mediums — books on tape, speakers, seminars, books, and articles. I think it was here that I learned the importance of omni-dimensional opportunities to engage with learners of all ages.
My sister and I often laugh that we were the family that didn’t listen to music on the way to swim meets or dance camps, but rather, what book on tape or motivational speaker Dad liked at that time; that is what we listened to for the countless hours of road time.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I traveled with my dad to Germany for the Frankfurt book fair which is the largest book fair in the world. At the time, Dad was the vice president of international sales for books and music for a contemporary Christian publishing and music company. He attended the fair every year and was an incredible networker. Dad had the gift of gab and knew how to leverage it. He had a natural instinct for connecting with people, and he could easily spot that same gift in others. Dad would later tell me how he saw that ability to connect with people in me at an early age. Instances throughout my childhood showed him that I not only had a special concern for helping people, but I also had a confidence that emboldened me to talk to anyone.
On this particular trip, he saw my sales and networking potential and decided to give me an opportunity to hone that skill set. He would later state that my enthusiasm and excitement was a magnet for people, so he put me in charge of the children’s book section. My job was to read every new release that we were showcasing and be able to tell people about it. Sounds pretty easy, right? Maybe for an adult who has years of training and experience in sales, but I was nine!
Since that trip, business in some form or fashion was going to follow me throughout my schooling days and into my own professional career. Connecting to people soon transformed into the art of storytelling in sales and marketing, and then I carried that into my operations and technology roles.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Early in my career I landed a job in sales and marketing for an organization in the insurance and financial institution space. These arenas were historically male dominated industries, but that didn’t scare me. I was often told that I was too bossy or too confident. My favorite comment was, “Your reputation precedes you and not in a good way.” When I asked why, my boss told me it was because if I was asked to join a project, call or meeting, something had to be fixed; the project or audit was behind and needed to get back on track, or the impossible needed to be made possible, which made people feel uncomfortable. I also heard, “That’s not how women act in corporate” a lot. This was said to me by both men and women alike. What is more astonishing to me is that we are in the twenty-first century, and ideologies like this are still a thing. It’s hard to believe that people still hold these stereotypes of women. Little did I know that my career path would take me into technology, which is even worse than typical corporate America in some cases, but, again, I am here for the journey. I am here to show up. If this is what my destiny has prepared, then so be it.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
There are many character traits needed to be successful, but the three most instrumental in my journey were:
1. Be your true authentic self. The story that I shared above is a great example of this. It shows that regardless of how uncomfortable the situation is, I’m still going to be myself, and I’m going to get the job done. I don’t conform to stereotypes or preconceived notions about how women should or should not behave in a corporate atmosphere. I am unapologetically myself!
2. Humility — know that you are not the smartest person in the room. As a program manager specialist I’m often leading large teams as we execute corporate wide initiatives. The size and scale of these projects means that I have learned to rely on the specialists and experts in each and every department impacted. Having confidence and humility in roles like this are keys to success.
3. Perseverance — knowing that this journey will not be easy but we can turn the negatives into positives. My career has afforded me lots of experiences in the area of perseverance, whether it’s returning from maternity leave to a new role or being given an impossible audit deliverable that had to be completed in less than six weeks over three major holidays. In each of these cases, I was successful but more than that, the lessons it taught me were invaluable and my perseverance muscle was that much stronger.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you help articulate a few of the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome while working in a male-dominated industry?
There are a number of challenges that women face, but what’s important is that each story is worthy of being heard. I hope that as women read this understand that though our stories are different, we are not alone. A colleague refers to a new commitment to honoring women’s voices as finding the microphone. I would like to expand on that and say it’s equally as important to amplify the microphone for women. In order to achieve true diversity and equality, it’s not enough for women to get the microphone, but the volume must be increased for all to hear.
The first key challenge that I would like to raise is work-life-family balance, or work-life family integration, as I like to call it. It can also be referred to as juggling in many cases. Many employers don’t look kindly on women during the child-bearing and child-raising years because there is this notion that they can’t do both. My challenge to this is that we have forgotten that men also have a child-raising period in their lives, and we shouldn’t resort to archaic gender roles and stereotypes about the responsibilities of parenting. Parenting is hard work, but it brings about a fullness in our lives that can make us better employees, no matter if we are moms, dads.
The second key challenge is that of equality — equality in compensation, skillsets required for the job, and performance measuring. There is plenty of data and research to support that women make less than men doing the same job. Women are less likely to apply for jobs if they don’t feel like they 100% meet the requirements. This same idea applies to internal promotions or job transitions. And finally, women are measured more harshly on their performance vs their male counter parts. Yes, some progress has been made in each of these areas, but there is more work to be done.
Can you share a few of the things you have done to gain acceptance among your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do? Can you share some stories or examples?
One of the things that I’ve realized is that the work community and male peers are not necessarily aware or educated about the extent of what is going with their female peers. By sharing these transparent stories with our peers and our work community we are amplifying the awareness so they, too, can raise their voices and advocate for us publicly.
Female co-workers, share your stories! It’s important for your stories and voices to be heard. You are not alone, and we want you to be encouraged and empowered. Let’s amplify your microphones.
What do you think male-oriented organizations can do to enhance their recruiting efforts to attract more women?
I believe it has to start at the top. You can’t recruit more women if you don’t have female leadership visible and responsible for key organizational change leadership. This same concept doesn’t just apply to women; it applies to all minority groups as we seek to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
Ok thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
I actually have 6 things that I share with my clients, podcast listeners and,eventually, my readers. You see I’ve had this conversation countless times, so I’m publishing my book The GSD Factor in early 2023. Women, especially, need to embody the GSD Factor Life, the attributes that say, “ I can get sh*t done no matter what life throws at me.” There are six main attributes with a plethora of supporting attributes that contribute to living out the fullness of the GSD Factor Life.
The six main attributes are:
The power to Be Confident — Knowing your true authentic self, knowing your voice, and speaking your truth so that you are heard. You lead by example with assertiveness giving you a sense of power and confidence.
The capacity to Be Inquisitive — We are always learning, always students of life. Being inquisitive is knowing that you are not the smartest person in the room, but also knowing how to mobilize the right team and people, which ensures that you are open to the fullness of life.
The determination to Be Imaginative — To dream big, never be satisfied with the status quo.
Be the innovator who continues to break down barriers and say, “I’m here; what can we improve? What is impossible that we can make possible?”
The ability to Be Present — Keep showing up, even if for a moment. It’s the art of starting to do something, anything, and trusting that process even when it seems that there are more pivots than plans. We live with the attitude of progress not perfection.
The choice to Be Resilient — The stamina, grit, and perseverance to acknowledge that life can be sh*t, but how do we learn and grow and turn the negatives into positives?
The connection to Be Influential — You lead by example as an actionable leader. You look to the future and also bring along the next generation alongside you, mentoring them so they can stand on your shoulders.
This is how I have lived my life and navigated my career in these male dominated industries. I believe we all have the GSD Factor within us. It’s just a matter of reigniting and reactivating what may have been muted. All women can thrive and succeed when the right tools are activated within their lives.