There are articles galore about gender equality, the ever increasing pay gap, parental leave entitlements (or lack of), women's battle to have a positive career trajectory, a good nights sleep, life after baby, life with baby, stress, Facebook groups/tribes/communities to join, relationships, cosmetics, skin care, general health and well-being. However, there is very little out there that talks about how women behave when they reach senior or executive level status in their careers and why they do it.
I want you to think about a woman that you have either worked with and/or have worked in the same company with. What was she like? What were her mannerisms like? How long had she been in the company for? How many other senior/executives were women? Personally, I have been lucky to work with many women at senior/executive level, yet, how they portray themselves in a work environment isn’t authentic to who they are. Alone at the top, and vastly outnumbered by men.
Those women were late 40’s/50’s with adult children or none, their measure of success had been very much driven by progression through job levels, professional achievements, and accolades. From my observations, career came first, over personal relationships/family. They worked especially hard to run their operations successfully, often with a firm grip.
Another commonality is that women in these positions distance themselves, Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote about her observations, saying that women often feel obliged to distance themselves from other women; the following three reasons may help us understand why.
Reason 1 - The need to fit into a male dominated arena
People have told me of experiences where they have tried to talk to the senior/executive women about career progression, their desire to have them as their mentor, with mixed responses. I have also seen executive women fight against the notion that they have a “feminist agenda”. They have worked hard to get where they are and, understandably they want to fit in, so they do this by not drawing attention to the fact that they are the minority, and female.
How you ask? It is often not a conscious decision, it's something that we just do so to not rock that boat and ensure we get what our area of responsibility needs. They may also not be the only woman on the executive team, which was probably all male not that long ago. The women will use their intuition and great ability to read the room and very quickly adjust their style to fit. They will change the behaviour of the team over time, however, this won't be done with the notion that they are there to advocate for women.
Reason 2 - Subtle digs
A congregation of women around the water cooler - must mean trouble!? A women's only event/conference or meeting means exclusion and that they are gossiping about us? hallway conversations with one another mean they are gossiping? Subtle digs don’t just come from male colleagues from my experience, female colleagues are worse.
Reason 3 - Helping each other at work is not seen as valuable
Since the beginning of my working life, I have been involved in women's networking groups, I have attended women only conferences and courses. Unfortunately, the networking groups, although started with great intentions failed to continue their quest. Often due to the lack of funding- money and time. From my experience most of these events were seen as valuable, however, this is not the case for most employers. They are often seen as social gatherings where we women can bitch, share horror stories, moan about our partners, our kids and how no one else bothers to clean the kitchen at work. This saddens me as it is clear that these company’s don’t understand the value of women coming together.
“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge”. Plato
To increase the value of women in executive roles we need to redefine what success looks like and go back to our roots - that is we are women, we are emotional beings, we desire great health, wealth, love & professional success, we are and can be as knowledgeable as the next person. Our point of difference is our ability to use all of this to influence decision makers, create amazing teams and succession plans. We define what success looks like and rock both the successes and the not so successful.
To underpin this, we change our thinking to one of I am the custodian of this amazing opportunity, and one of my key successes will be supporting other women to achieve their professional goals and maybe, one day, take over the custodianship of my role.
So how do you do that?
Here are Maslow’s top 5 things you can start doing today -
Celebrate women's accomplishments and make sure everyone in the company knows about it!
Introduce yourself and your female colleagues with flare! You are not just the Marketing Manager, you are the Marketing Manager for the company, in charge of all public relations, awareness campaigns and backed by kick arse experience and qualifications.
Put a stop to undermining and embrace the positive; this is our hand break, we verbalise our self-doubt, we start our statements with “Not sure this is a good idea…” and we often don’t correct our female colleagues during conversations.
Be a mentor and not a competitor - make the shift, start sharing your wares, with giving comes great satisfaction and success.
Rock your femininity and share your story warts and all!!!
If you are in need of an external person to talk to about how you can do this better in your organization contact - Vic Jack and Carlene Campbell . We have vast experiences to share and can’t wait to start working with you.