Navigating Traditionally Male-Dominated Institutions - Julie Roehm

Many industries are (still) defined as “male-dominated”. However, there are countless women today who are shattering the glass ceiling and proving that we live in a world that is moving toward parity. One of these women is Julie Roehm — Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at Party City. Julie has worked in various industries and has been a shining star in each one of them.

In celebration of Women’s Month, we are sharing an excerpt from Julie’s podcast ‘Opportunity in Adversity’ by the Empowered Women Series. Julie shares her experience growing her career in male-dominated industries, and how she used that to motivate herself.

“I always had a bigger chip on my shoulder about the boys versus girls. I went to Catholic parochial schools my whole childhood followed by an all-girls private catholic high school. I had all these secular experiences growing up. I am not sure if it was just the era I grew up in, or if it was because of the church that ran the institutions, but they all made it clear to us that it was a boys’ world. Being an extremely competitive person, that just did not sit well with me. I vividly recall several occasions where I would compete and often beat the boys (spelling contests, math contests, foot races, soccer) — I felt the need to. It was almost to prove a point, more to myself than anyone else.

“I remember being in the fourth grade at a math contest where there were two, adjacent, wall-long chalkboards with math problems on them. There were two teams and each would solve questions simultaneously. I remember feeling so competitive against the smartest boy in class. This is of course a small example, but I was just so determined to win, and even more so against the boys. It turned out to be a motivating factor.

“After finishing high school, I realized I was good at math and science so I decided to get into engineering. Now engineering at Purdue University at the time was probably 80–90% male. So once again, I was thrown back into that space of competing in a men’s world. That did not shake me because it was what I was accustomed to, so I worked hard and did well.

“I then went on to work at Ford Motor Company — in another largely male-dominated industry. The top tier of any large public company is usually male-dominated, but even more so in the automotive industry, especially in the 90’s. Things there were pretty traditional — the dealer body was 99.9% owned by middle-aged white men. I was in that environment where you are thrust into these awkward situations. There were two ways to deal with them — you can be what people expected which was quiet and unobtrusive or you could stand out in multiple ways (which has its consequences), work hard, and reach your full potential. I chose the latter.

“Being a young, blonde female in the corporate world, there was always a stereotype that was attached to me…a set of preconceived notions. In the traditional corporate world, they see you and there’s that instant judgment. Instead of being resentful of that, I chose to use it as my motivating factor and a chance to prove those people wrong. I felt like I had to prepare harder to know my business backward and forward, to be confident, and to be ready to be tested more than my male counterparts. There are t-shirts that say “underestimate me, this should be fun” and that is exactly how I approached life then…and now.”

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