Entrepreneurs

WWE co-founder Linda McMahon shares her No. 1 tip for thriving in a male-dominated field

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WWE co-founder Linda McMahon on being a woman in a male-dominated business:...

Linda McMahon has spent the majority of her career in environments dominated by men.

McMahon, 69, is the co-founder and former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Currently, she's the leader of the Small Business Administration and one of just five women in President Donald Trump's 22-person Cabinet.

She tells CNBC Make It that the best way to succeed is to not try to blend in. She doesn't try to be "one of the guys."

"When you are constantly in a really heavily dominated male environment, the one counsel that I always give to young women and women who are older, as well, is don't think you have to change who you are," says McMahon.

Linda McMahon, U.S. Small Business Administration chief
Photo courtesy Bloomberg

"You're not, you don't want to be, one of the guys, because you are who you are. So I never took that position," McMahon says. "I never thought I had to kind of hang out with the guys or to have kind of a tough act."

Instead, McMahon says she made a place for herself professionally by focusing on doing her job well.

"I earned their respect, because I knew what I was talking about and I did what I said I would do," says McMahon. "I was clear. I was instructive. I was supportive. I was critical when it was necessary and I gave praise when it was due, and I think when you do all of those things and you know your stuff and you stick with it, you're going to bring other people along with you, so you're not competing, you're all growing."

McMahon built WWE with her husband Vincent, who is now worth almost $1.8 billion, according to Forbes. In her time with the company she helped grow it from a 13-person regional business to a global public company with more than 800 employees, opening corporate offices around the world, leading licensing deals for action figures and toys, negotiating international media contracts, leading the creation of the WWE's educational and literacy programs and taking the company, which now has a $3 billion market cap, public.

McMahon served as CEO of the Stamford, Conn.-based company until 2009, when she stepped down to run for the U.S. Senate as the Republican nominee for Connecticut in 2010 and again in 2012. She lost both times.

She says she made hiring decisions at WWE irrespective of gender: "I always look to hire the right person for the job, not necessarily male or female — it's who could do the job the best," she tells CNBC Make It.

But she acknowledges that being a female leader in a male-dominated field can mean having to regularly confront others' preconceived notions.

"I was the CEO at WWE, and I went to a big conference and I had taken with me my chief marketing officer, who's a big tall fellow," McMahon shares with CNBC Make It. Her CMO at the time was 6'3" tall and had a presence she describes as "robust."

"When I first entered the conference, people gathered around the two of us," but were directing their questions to the male CMO, McMahon says. His response, she remembers, was "'I could answer that, but you might want to ask my boss. She's the CEO and I am the chief marketing officer."

"I think you have to realize that perceptions, you know, are still there," says McMahon.

Video by Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo

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