Stilettos in business - Part 2
Blogger: Sadhana Smiles, CEO, Harcourts Victoria
In this post, Ms Smiles continues her column on the topic of being a woman in business and working in a male dominated industry. Read part one here.
Women do need to get better at “talking themselves up”. You cannot assume or hope that someone is going to notice you or your success. You also need to be prepared to take risks, open up that business or apply for roles that you may not be 100 per cent equipped for.
I have my milestones on my shower wall and I regularly adjust and prioritise these in line with what is currently important or achievable.
I see women who choose to be stay-at-home mums or work part time as incredibly successful - because I know how hard it is.
Being comfortable in your own skin and succeeding professionally and personally is an issue I believe is not just for women. There is most certainly a global case for woman on boards and leadership roles, and the time has now come for businesses to act rather than debate the issue.
I am often asked by male managers how to best manage their female team members. Yes, it is different and yes, from time to time you will need a box of tissues. A number of men assume that most women they work with will be like their wives or partners, and this is not the case. Women in business also expect to be treated the same as their male counterparts in terms of business achievements and expectations.
Men build relationships with their male counterparts through golf, drinks at the bar, nights out with the boys and sport. Place a female amongst this and most men do find it hard to build a relationship that goes deeper than business.
I believe this issue is one that both genders need to assess and find a way to build stronger relationships based on common ground. I struggle with this issue and I'm often challenged with the 'how'. As a women, your communication will be under constant scrutiny.
However, I am a firm believer that when you’re aware of what your challenges are, you need to find a way to overcome them! Also, accept that we won’t always get it right. Learn from the mistakes you make and grow as a leader, manager or business owner.
The issue of gender equality will never be resolved, and the discussion does need to focus on how to help women succeed in business.
The book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray is a must read, amongst a number of other books. Many books are designed to help women understand that they do need to speak up in the workplace, take credit for a job well done, ask for what they want, including promotions and pay rises. This will involve taking risks by stepping up to opportunities that may be beyond their experience. All of this goes towards showing the masculine traits of confidence and assertiveness in the workplace.
But be very aware of the double bind. These exact same traits can be seen as aggressive, hard line, hard nosed and pushy.
Women need to be smart at knowing when to use male and female traits; knowing when to be tough, self-promoting, competitive, confident, commanding and direct versus soft, collaborative, persuasive, unassuming and indirect.
A common trait shared by successful women in the corporate world is that they are chameleons: they fit into their environment by assessing the situation and adapting their actions accordingly. This is certainly not as easy as it sounds.
Even at the top level there is gender bias and commentary. You only have to look at the unreasonable amount of attention paid to Julia Gillard on her choice of hair colour, glasses, clothes and partner versus policy and governing of the country.
It was the same in the United States when Hilary Clinton was campaigning. She was seen as hard and tough with low-cut necklines.
When we think leader, we think 'male' across countries and cultures. Women are expected to soften their leadership style to gain a following, or run the risk of isolating themselves. Men on the other hand, are not expected to temper their leadership style to be seen as agreeable. Women are expected to be more compassionate.
Men will self-promote effectively and with no consequence. However, women doing the same who are also confident and assertive are seen as less likeable or only doing so for their own advantage.
As a result, women in leadership worry about how others perceive them. They constantly review behaviour to ensure they are not being seen in an unsavoury light.
Men and women will always have different management styles because we are wired differently. What is important is the outcome.
The challenge to getting women into senior positions is dependent on how we structure workplaces. We lose women from the workforce because often they don’t want to be on the corporate treadmill, work the long hours and play the politics.
Bringing it back to my own industry, women are at an advantage as they can be successful selling agents, property managers and ultimately own their own profitable businesses.
Across the country, we are seeing more and more women open up their own agencies, franchise groups putting a focus on recruiting female agents and developing workplaces that are diverse and inclusive.
I run the risk of this blog being seen as Sadhana pushing the female 'barrow'. This won’t be the first time either. I am very aware that I walk a fine line in this issue. What I have stated in this blog cannot be denied. I have worked with men who embrace what women bring to the table and men who see me as a hard-nosed pushy female. I have learnt to accept that I am never going to please everyone on this issue.
Will we ever have equality in the workplace? Probably not. That shouldn’t stop us from working towards better outcomes for future generations; laying the ground work for our daughters and granddaughters. Look at where we have come from and where we are today, so the future does indeed look bright.
I was recently nominated for the Telstra Business Women’s Award. The submission asks you to discuss the successes you have had across your entire career and personal life. I have been named as a finalist in these awards in the private corporate sector. Whatever the result, this will be a bonus. However, I want to encourage other women to enter such awards. We often downplay our successes and achievements instead of celebrating and sharing them. We won’t always get it right and we can’t always have it all, but anything is possible and achievable; it is just a matter of how.