The stereotype of an ambitious woman can often be less than flattering. Sadly, with the media often still using headlines that portray go-getting ladies as alpha-males, such clichés remain stubbornly intact.
Such old-fashioned ideas can actually put off the very women who should be at the top, making key decisions for the good of our businesses.
As positive economic evidence mounts in favour of more senior female workers, this attitude needs to change for everyone’s benefit. And we at Pure have developed our Women’s Leadership Programme to help support this change.
Women can do a lot themselves to become powerful professionals with the qualities of superb business leaders and, it doesn’t need to be at the expense of their ‘authentic self’.
Here are a few tips on how to be successful without ditching your fantastic female qualities…
1. Find a role model
Some of the world’s most powerful women have not made their way to the top by being egotistical or aggressive. But they are calm, smart and self-assured. Whether it’s Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel or another woman you admire in your industry, find a role model and study her approach – notice her body language, how she speaks and how she handles tricky questions. It’s an inspiring way to learn how female leaders influence, develop useful networks and deal with heated situations without losing their cool.
2. Work on your body language
Around 95% of communication is non-verbal; body language such as posture and eye contact is essential in getting your message across with confidence. Practising ‘power postures’ in front of a mirror will help you get a feel for how other people see you when you hold yourself differently. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard professor and researcher in non-verbal behaviour offers entertaining insight and more important advice.
3. Just be yourself
There’s a false belief in society that women need to behave like men to get to the top. More assertiveness may be needed, but by our very nature we have different perspectives and characteristics, which can help business boom – and complement male colleagues’ approach. For example when senior men and women work together, more balanced and sustainable decisions are made. So don’t be afraid to be yourself, but do focus on enhancing key skills and learn how to make your voice heard.
4. Balance political with the emotional
Women are known for high levels of emotional intelligence, which can be the perfect partner for sometimes difficult workplace politics. Dealing with conflict sensitively, appreciating differences in opinions and personalities, nurturing good working relationships, and investing in staff wellbeing can help create a positive working environment for all.
5. Plan your career
Many women expect to have to take long breaks in their career to bring up children, while others assume they’ll have to give up work entirely. Of course each person should choose what works best for them, but with such expectations it’s no surprise that businesses are yet to make changes that will enable women to stay at work and become senior employees. So if you’re in a junior position now and hope to start a family in the coming years, start looking for employers who offer flexibility, are happy to create opportunities and make arrangements that support your career. If you are about to go on maternity leave, it is a good idea to plan ways to keep connected with your employer and keep your skills and knowledge up to date.
6. Find a networking group
There are plenty of local networking groups out there aimed at female professionals. You can get to meet women who’ve smashed through that ‘glass ceiling’, attend talks and join lunch clubs. Look at Women in Business Network or Meet Up to get started. In addition to womens’ networks, also consider joining general business networks so you have a balance and you don’t risk narrowing down your opportunities too much. Good luck and have fun!
You see, there’s no reason to exchange your more feminine attributes for classically male traits to get ahead. The world is changing - and the government is placing senior women workers at the heart of these changes, alongside their male colleagues.
Pure has much more advice for employers and women on this topic – get in touch to find out more!
Lynn is a founding Director of Pure and leads Pure Executive with over 25 years recruiting for Executive appointments. Lynn supports East of England-based businesses with senior management and Board level recruitment. Lynn leads the Best Employer Eastern Region Initiative and the Women In Leadership Programme both of which are aimed at helping companies and people to develop.