Op-Ed: How to Excel as a Woman in a Male-Dominated Space

In any industry, it is not uncommon to walk into a meeting and be the only woman present. That can be intimidating, especially in fields like mortgage tech that are traditionally perceived to be dominated by men.

Statistics show that across the banking and finance industry, women represent only 38% of senior managers. In the IT services space, that number drops to 29%, according to the 2023 Women in the Workplace report produced by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org.

Throughout their lives, many women encounter individuals who doubt their abilities solely due to gender, leading to self-imposed limitations in both personal and professional aspirations. However, with the right perspective and support, women can soar at work. Throughout my career, I discovered ways to break through barriers and thrive in the mortgage tech space. You can, too.

In the past six-plus years, I grew from a UX designer to the Director of Product Design and Development at ServiceLink, where I now oversee the organization’s product design team, while serving as project lead on several high-impact projects. At ServiceLink, we are fortunate that the organization wants to see women leaders succeed, a commitment reflected in the fact that 40% of our leadership roles are held by women. With this comes my first piece of advice: find a company that aligns with your goals.

Unblock yourself from stereotypes and biases

Raised in a conservative Asian family, I was repeatedly told what girls should and should not do. In primary school, I loved STEM subjects. Being told that girls were not supposed to be good at them, I awaited the moment of expected defeat. To my surprise, I continued to excel as I progressed through middle school, high school and into college, prompting me to question what the outside world told me.

This pattern of outside commentary continued as I started my professional journey. I was told to find an easy and stable job so I would have more time to take care of my spouse and future kids. However, my inner voice was clear that a simple, undemanding job wasn’t what I truly desired. I enjoy solving complicated problems as it makes me feel accomplished. Therefore, I chose to become a UX designer–a profession with solving problems and challenging the status quo as its core responsibilities.

After working in UX design for a few years, I got an opportunity to take my first managerial role. Rather than encouragement, I was met with skepticism from friends who thought my introverted nature might impede success in this new position, suggesting I stick to a technical role. Undeterred, I told myself to give it a try. A few months into the role, I soon realized that my personality wasn’t a barrier as leadership isn’t confined to a specific personality type. I found joy in bringing people together, empowering them to succeed, and helping the team to achieve something greater.

These experiences taught me the importance of not letting others and their biases define who I am and not limiting myself and setting restraints based on societal or environmental barriers. Believing in yourself is crucial, regardless of external opinions. Over time, I’ve adopted a mindset of embracing what I love and trying new things, even in uncertainty. It’s about following your passion and discovering your own path.

Never stop learning

My fascination with technology, especially in user experience and product development, shaped my career goal: to connect technology with human needs and create products that address business problems. This interest led me to identify innovative opportunities in the mortgage sector. The often-frustrating process for first-time home buyers, with its myriad of steps and documentation, presented a perfect opportunity for applying my design expertise to enhance user experience and develop high-quality digital mortgage solutions.

As I progressed in the field, I remained committed to continuous learning. While working full-time at ServiceLink, I studied part-time at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, earning an MBA last year. This was made possible with the company’s support, balancing work with evening and weekend classes. The courses that I took helped me gain further business knowledge and acquire new skills for my role at ServiceLink. The diverse curriculum broadened my business acumen and equipped me with new skills relevant to my role at ServiceLink. It covered foundational knowledge in marketing, sales, finance, data analytics, machine learning and more, extending beyond my design background. The program also offered practical leadership insights and experiences, enriching my understanding of effective team management and strategic decision-making, crucial skills for my evolving role at work.

Although further education benefited me, you do not necessarily need to go back to school to gain a greater understanding of the business world to help you advance. For those seeking new competencies, there are an abundance of online resources, including courses and certifications, that can expand your knowledge and enhance your career trajectory. Learning is a lifelong journey in this ever-changing world.

Find mentors and role models

Finding the right mentors has played a pivotal role in my career progression. Over the last several years, I engaged twice in ServiceLink’s mentorship program and gained vast knowledge from both female mentors I was paired with. When I first began interacting with senior leadership, I was routinely nervous. Seeking guidance, I turned to my mentor, who advised me to remember that behind every title is a human being. She also shared tips for how to prepare for executive presentations step by step, which immensely boosted my confidence in such settings.

Beyond formal mentorship, it’s also crucial to identify role models both within and outside your organization. At ServiceLink, I observe how other senior women leaders behave and ask for their suggestions whenever I can. Outside of ServiceLink, I follow exceptional women leaders that I respect. After watching the online leadership course from Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, I was inspired by her communication style. She is assertive and knows how to speak clearly and eloquently, qualities I aspire to develop. Similarly, I also was influenced by Sheryl Sandberg, the former COO of Meta, and Founder of LeanIn.org. In her book, she shares about the challenges women encounter and how she overcame the barriers throughout the years.

Don’t forget that men can be valuable mentors and allies, too. For instance, my male manager has been an invaluable mentor and role model, providing practical advice and resources for navigating complexity, handling challenging conversations and building confidence in various contexts. A lot of times, men can offer understanding, support and inspiring ideas from a different perspective.

Key takeaway: Prioritize common ground over differences

Gender, race and age are merely facets of our identity and should not overshadow our commonalities. Rather than emphasizing the ways we differ from our colleagues and peers, it’s more fruitful to discover and focus on our shared attributes. Everyone’s uniqueness adds value to a team, but it’s the similarities that foster connection and belonging. By honing in on these commonalities, we can better relate to those around us and deliver value in a diverse environment.

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Ying Wang

Ying Wang

Ying Wang is Director of Product Design and Development at ServiceLink, where she oversees a team of six. In her more than six years at ServiceLink, Wang has led multiple mortgage application design projects that led to significant order processing and vendor management improvements and efficiencies for the organization and its clients.
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