What will you do to #PressForProgress?
As many of us prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day, I reflect on the meaning of its theme for this year, Press for Progress. This year, each one of us is being asked individually to act, think and be gender inclusive.
For me, gender parity is intrinsically linked to respect and inclusion and as long as we lack these two ingredients in our society, gender parity will defy us.
Let me elaborate:
I have observed on many occasions that women feel disrespected and excluded in business, having to live up to a double standard that works against them no matter what they do.
Here’s an example:
I recently spoke to a highly motivated and successful recruiter - a woman- who doesn’t mince her words, is direct in her approach and very strategic and professional. She tells me that she owes her professional success to her less-feminine nature. In other words, behaving more like men do - less emotional and personable - has yielded great success in business yet comes at a human cost. Jennifer (let’s call her) finds that, although business is good, her male colleagues don’t like her demeanour, while her female colleagues find her unfriendly and too ambitious. Stuck between two worlds, Jennifer finds it hard to fit in and feels unrealised, unappreciated and undervalued.
Jennifer is not alone. She is but one example of many successful women out there who had to adapt their behaviour to fit into a business world that was built by men for men. Having a long-term, successful career and contributing our very best is virtually impossible if we don’t feel respected and included because we’re trying hard to adapt to an environment that isn’t not natural to us.
So what can we do? There are a number of things we as individuals can do to improve this business reality.
Here are my top 3:
- Take notice of what expectations we have of the genders.
Are we applying a double standard to men and women? Do we expect men to be the providers and therefore believe they might be more deserving of promotions and raises than women, as Kristen Pressner tells us in her TEDx talk? Do we automatically have a higher regard for men than we do women, as I noticed recently at a hotel when I asked for something and didn’t get it and a few minutes later my husband asked the same person for the same thing and did get it?
Next time you interact with a man and a woman, pay attention to how you perceive them subconsciously and, as a result, how you treat each of them. Do you respect a man who is forthright and assertive, giving curt and clear directions to his team members? How do you feel when a woman does the same? Is she perceived as uncaring or, worse, aggressive? Is this behaviour unbecoming of a woman? And yet that is the price of admission to senior business circles we demand of women.
- Challenge your assumptions.
If you have noticed that you might in fact be applying a double standard to women and men, ask yourself, how can I change that? What can you do to be more even-handed with women and men? Is it possible for you to see beyond the facade of what’s required and understand why women (and men) behave in certain ways? Next time you think of a woman as being abrasive or overly ambitious or might characterise her as a ‘networker’, ask yourself, if this were a man behaving in the same or similar fashion, would you think that of him?
- Appreciate our individual authenticity.
How often do women hear that they take things too personally or are being too emotional in business? Every time a woman’s nature as an emotional being is questioned at work, her value at work is being discounted. Yet emotions do have their place in business. Business is all about relationships and women have been shown to be able to build solid and effective business relationships, evidencing business returns that follow those connections.
I remember the female head of sales who was predicted to fail as she took over a relationship with a hot-headed and ‘difficult’ client. In fact, this woman’s ability to read the client’s reactions and adapt her style of communication - a main aspect of emotional intelligence- earned her trust and respect with the client and, consequently, most of his business. Relationships like that are built on the strength of our emotional intelligence and any business that discounts EQ as a valuable form of intelligence is incurring unforgivable opportunity costs. Emotions do have a very important place in business as do intuition (that gut feeling that our brain cannot decipher that’s based on surrounding cues we pick up subconsciously), transparency and nurturing. Women have been successful using all those traits despite the lack of appreciation of them by the male nature of business. So next time you find a woman being ‘too emotional’, you may ask yourself why that is, what is the value of that emotion in business and why you yourself lack it.
We have come a long way in appreciating and respecting each other for our differences - yet we have a long way to go. When we begin to genuinely respect and appreciate our differences, we will cease to be surrounded by scandalous inappropriate behaviours, we will begin to spot undiscovered opportunities for growth and unlock the many untapped resources of our people.
Don’t you think that’s worth pressing for progress for?
Rina Goldenberg Lynch as a Gender Parity Advocate and Founder of Voice At The Table, a strategy consultancy with a focus on gender diversity and inclusion. Having worked as a banking lawyer for nearly 20 years, Rina qualified as an executive coach with the AoEC in 2014 and uses coaching in all aspects of her business, from building strong bonds with her team to understanding clients. Connect with Rina on LinkedIn, Twitter and her website.
Find out more about Rina at Voice At The Table’s IWD Celebration.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the view of AoEC.